Puerta Abierta Preschool partners with Main-Dempster Mile, expands fundraising initiatives under new director


Madison Smith/Daily Senior Staffer

Puerta Abierta Preschool has a new executive director after 23 years and is making additional strides in the Evanston community.

Under its new director, Puerta Abierta Preschool — Evanston’s sole Spanish-immersion preschool — has begun forging partnerships with the community through fundraising initiatives.

Puerta Abierta was the Main-Dempster Mile’s annual Evanston Wine Walk charity partner. Thirty-seven local businesses hosted wine tastings along Main Street on Sept. 15. Crowds walked down Main Street and Chicago Avenue, meeting business owners and sampling their products. Proceeds of the ticketed event supported the preschool.

Main-Dempster Mile executive director Katherine Gotsick said she hopes the Wine Walk fundraiser will highlight nonprofits that provide community resources like Puerta Abierta. 

“It’s really important to give to these nonprofits that are working so hard, (and) it’s also an excellent opportunity simply to tell their story,” Gotsick said. “Becoming more culturally aware and becoming more culturally sensitive …. that is an incredible value to bring your kids up with.”

The three-classroom school, founded in 1997 and located at Hemenway United Methodist Church, teaches Spanish to two- to four-year-olds. The school’s name, which translates to “open door,” coordinates with its mission to promote multiculturalism.

“(Our mission) is to provide an education space to families regardless of their financial background,” Executive Director Andrea Martinez said. “We’re here to teach Spanish, but we are also teaching the kids values.” 

Martinez succeeded founder and 25-year director María Cuellar Weisgal in July after working at the school for over 15 years, serving as the office assistant and a part-time teacher.  

Since Martinez understands how the school runs and has formed connections with many teachers, Weisgal was happy to pass down the position to her. 

“My plan is to continue (Weisgal’s) legacy, her vision,” Martinez said. “But at the same time, make room for changes, for others to be involved in the changes in the school, like the teachers.”

This is not the first time the school has seen strong community support. When it experienced vandalism and a break-in last November — costing more damages than its insurance could cover — the community raised over $3,000 for the building’s recovery.

Teresa Infante, who is Mexican, has taught at the preschool for 23 years and said she likes teaching students of various ethnic backgrounds her language.

“In the same way, we can learn from the different cultures of the children who also come here from other countries,” Infante said. 

Infante added that she often sees alums at school events and is happy to see they have maintained their Spanish knowledge even years later.

Non-Spanish-speaking families have also enrolled their children in the school to prepare them to enter Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s Two-Way Immersion program, Martinez said, which helps kids develop fluency in both English and Spanish. 

She said the school creates an experience unlike other bilingual schools because all teachers are native Spanish speakers and provide students constant exposure to the language. 

Merí Robles, who has taught at the school for over 20 years, said she has learned words in other languages to help students that may not speak English or Spanish. She currently teaches a student who is Polish. 

“(Puerta Abierta) is very important for the community because of its commitment to uniting identities, cultures and traditions,” Robles added. 

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