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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Cristina Baeza is a mother searching for an early childhood program to better engage her busy 3-year-old, Alyssa.

“I’m excited for this year to take her to school and have her have a head start and learn sooner,” said Baeza. “I’ve heard of some schools; but, sometimes it’s kind of hard to get them in.”

But, what the Oak Cliff mother didn’t know was that she could have ended her search just down the street at the old Harllee Elementary. It’s reopening as one of the district’s new Early Childhood Centers—and the program accepts toddlers.

“I didn’t know they were opening one right here across the street from Townview,” exclaimed Baeza, “I’ll go check it out!”

DISD will open two new Early Childhood Centers in the fall. Harllee principal Onjaleke Brown is positively brimming with enthusiasm.

“Alphabet, letters, sounds… we will reach kids where they are and take them where we need them to go,” she said. Brown agreed with experts who continue to call for greater access to early childhood education to help lift the next generation out of poverty.

“The research shows that our children of poverty are coming to school with 5,000 less vocabulary words– the minute they cross the threshold — so we’re already starting behind,” said Brown, “so that’s why PreK is important. When you walk into kindergarten and you haven’t had that early childhood experience before, it’s almost like going to a foreign country. You don’t have the things that are needed to be successful.”

A second Early Childhood Center is currently under construction on the site of the old Wilmer Hutchins elementary in Wilmer, now a part of DISD. And while the goal is to put the new schools in communities that need them, any child living within DISD boundaries, may apply to attend. The schools are free, but with limited enrollment… so good luck beating Baeza in hurrying to secure a spot.

“I’m excited about that place,” said Baeza, also mom to a DISD 6-year-old. “Hopefully they still have space right now.”

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