Head Start Helps Smooth Separation

posted 6/20/23 -- Joniel Ruiz started the school year frightened and tearful. He ended the year confident and happy, thanks to Head Start staff.

“I feel like he broke free,” said his mother, Ninoshka Ruiz. “He loves his teachers and he loves Ms. Alicia.”

Hopkins Locke Site Administrator Alicia Risner said Joniel had a hard time separating from his parents. Emotions ran high.

“When mom would pull up to drop him off, he would cry and not want to come to school,” Riser said. “Mom was emotional about leaving him at school especially if he was crying. I assured her that he was safe and we would be ok soon after she left.”

Mrs. Ruiz said she and her husband Gabriel didn’t know what to do and they were grateful for Risner’s help and support.

“I was crying with him,” she said. “I was very frustrated. She made him feel so comfortable. Every single day she made sure we were okay.”

Ruiz knew Head Start was the right place for her son. Her daughter, Kelianiz, had already attended Hopkins Locke and the family was grateful for the site’s bilingual classrooms.

“We do speak to him in both languages,” Ruiz said. “I really like that they have bilingual teachers.”

Teacher Iraida Vargas had also taught Kelianiz, who now attends Vincent Elementary in the Clearview School District.

“It was not easy, there was always crying,” Vargas said, “but gradually it was achieved. He had the initiative to stay a little longer. He made friends. Finally, we succeeded.”

Working as a team, the staff and parents worked Joniel up from half days to full days – he found nap time disorienting in the beginning. Risner checked on him regularly and sent his mom messages throughout the day.

“When I saw him in the room, I always asked him to show me his smile, which he did,” Risner said. “As the year went on, when I would go check on him, I would poke my head in, find him and ask, ‘what do I need to see?’ He would immediately flash me his beautiful smile.”

Joniel’s social skills greatly improved over the school year and Ruiz hopes he won’t get too comfortable at home over the summer. He will return to Vargas’ class this fall.

“He’s very, very smart. He knows a lot of things,” Ruiz said. “I’m hoping he returns with a good attitude.”



Vargas said Joniel is a happy, obedient and helpful boy. She looks forward to having him back in her class this fall. Risner agrees.



“I was able to watch this scared and emotional little boy grow into a happy and confident preschooler,” Risner said. “I am so proud of both mom and dad for trusting us to keep their prized treasure safe. Not only did Joniel grow, but his family grew as well together through Head Start.”