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FARMINGTON — A class of 3-year-old children bounced up and down on a piece of playground equipment built to look like a Jeep this afternoon at A Gold Star Academy on Crouch Mesa.

The academy opened last month through a series of community efforts that included the construction of playground equipment by A-1 Machine Inc., which builds equipment for the oil and natural gas industry.

A Gold Star Academy has been held up as an example of a community coming together to make New Mexico the "best place to be a kid," in the words of state Children, Youth and Families Department Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson. The San Juan Safe Communities Initiative, a local nonprofit organization focused on improving the quality of life in the county, presented the new child care center with a $10,000 award during a CYFD community outreach meeting at Piedra Vista High School today.

Jacobson spoke about the new Pull Together community engagement effort that she and Gov. Susana Martinez unveiled at the beginning of May.

"If we want to change our state, we have to change the mindset of the people in our state," Jacobsen said.

The Pull Together campaign focuses on simplifying the process for parents to find such resources as free or low-cost child care and free or reduced-price lunches, and encouraging the community to get involved in efforts to make life better for children. Jacobson highlighted some ways community members can help, such as fostering or adopting a child, volunteering at organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters or putting together backpacks of supplies for foster children.

As part of the effort, CYFD has developed a website, pulltogether.org, which provides information like parenting tips, resources for parents and information about child care. People can also call 1-800-691-9067 or email info@pulltogether.org.

One resource for parents is A Gold Star Academy. In addition to the Crouch Mesa facility, the academy has three other locations in Farmington. The four facilities provide early child care and offer after-school child care.

The Crouch Mesa location has two classes that are free for 3-year-old children. Unlike the other locations, it does not offer free care for 4-year-old children. Instead, Esperanza Elementary School, located across the street, offers the free child care for the 4-year-old children.

With the help of a year of free rent from the city of Farmington, donated fencing from San Juan County and other contributions, the Crouch Mesa facility opened Aug. 31. A $22,000 state grant that was received this summer paid for classroom equipment.

Barbara Tedrow, who owns A Gold Star Academy, said it uses a "play-based" curriculum.

In one classroom, 14 children played games this afternoon. One girl dressed up as a firefighter while another girl wore a mail carrier costume. In a corner, two children painted pictures. Other children played a game in which they fished for colorful toy fish.

"Even when they're doing this, they're learning," Tedrow said.

She explained that the children learn to count how many toy fish they catch and to identify the colors of the fish they catch. Tedrow said the children can choose what they want to play.

"They don't even realize they're learning," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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