What sounds like a traditional school campus is actually an early-education center, where pint-size preschoolers are eased into the rigors of the three R's.
"By the time they reach kindergarten, they have a very strong grasp of school readiness," said Sheila Hardy, the principal at the Pacoima Early Education Center, one of the 107 such facilities in Los Angeles Unified.
"They can read, they can use a pencil, the social skills are there. And these are skills that would be affected without the preschool experience."
Like other programs operated by Los Angeles Unified, early-childhood education is set to take a hit in 2012-13.
The proposed budget would eliminate the $45 million School Readiness Language Development Program, which has 13,000 4-year-olds enrolled in half-day sessions to help improve their English-language skills.
It also would trim $18 million from the general early childhood budget, which helps fund full-day, state-licensed daycare programs for youngsters of working-class parents, said Nora Armenta, executive director of the district's Early Education Division.
"We take care of them, give them meals, naptime, academic foundations," Armenta said. "We teach them literacy, science and mathematics in a fun way that they understand."
This preschool program, which charges parents a fee based on their income, is also
The Pacoima Early Ed Center already has a waiting list of nearly 100 families -- those anxious to get their kids into a facility with a new playground and an outdoor playhouse. Inside are three well-equipped classrooms where credentialed teachers work closely with students in both English and Spanish.
"They prepare the kids pretty good," said parent Daniel Marin, whose 9-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, excelled in elementary school after a year at Pacoima Early Ed.
"She learned to read and write at an early age. And I'm worried that the government is going to take these opportunities away from her younger sister."
Hardy notes that countless studies have affirmed the value of preschool creating a love of learning, which translates into higher test scores and graduation rates and a lower incidence of crime and delinquency.
"I look around and think, what will happen to these children if the center closes? How will it change the community?" Hardy said. "I believe that investing in early education programs will result in savings in the long run."