The “Week of the Young Child” — an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children — commemorates early learning, young children, their teachers, partners, families and community members. This year’s dates are April 10-16.

Mission Promise Neighborhood Early Learning Family Success Coach Ada Alvarado celebrates young children every week, acting as a connector to free services for kids ages 0-5 and their families. One of the goals of the Mission Promise Neighborhood is to inform families with young children of the connection between quality early care and education (child care and preschool) and school readiness. Mission Promise Neighborhood encourages more families to enroll their children in high-quality early care and education programs, and to be informed about the resources that are available to promote school readiness with their little ones.

As a country, we have become more aware of the importance of healthy development,high-quality early education and school readiness and this is a message that gets shared daily with the community in the Mission. Based on data collected in 2014 for the Mission Promise Neighborhood Survey, 29.5 percent of the families with a child 0-5 reported that their child attended a formal center-based or home-based program. We know that there are higher numbers of children ages 3 to 5 that are attending a pre-K program; the bigger challenge is the infant-toddler population. The Mission Promise Neighborhood community is working to address this challenge. An example of this is the Mission Neighborhood Centers Early Head Start and Head Start program. “They are responding to the need by increasing their infant-toddler slots,” says Liz Cortez, Mission Promise Neighborhood Early Learning Manager.

There are many resources for families in San Francisco. For example, San Francisco is a leader in universal preschool, or Preschool For All (PFA), which aims to expand preschool access and improve preschool program quality for all 4-year-old children residing within San Francisco County. Depending on whether the school is private or public, the costs are partially or completely covered by First 5 San Francisco.

In addition to formal programming, there are many resources available for families with young children. Funded through First 5 SF, the Department of Children, Youth and their Families, and the Human Services Agency, every neighborhood has a Family Resource Center (FRC), where families can access child development and family development resources. In the Mission, there are four FRCs: Felton-FSA; Good SamaritanHomeless Prenatal; and Instituto Familiar de la Raza. Three of the four organizations are Mission Promise Neighborhood partners. Mission Promise Neighborhood Early Learning Family Success Coach Ada Alvarez is placed at two of these FRCs, where she provides a variety of services, but mostly focuses on connecting families to four main services of immigration, housing, workforce, and early care and education resources.

Ada Inside Alvarado, a former preschool teacher, brings vast experience to her work and is very passionate about informing families in the Mission about the many resources and opportunities for young children and families. She does this by connecting with families in various ways: by helping families to place their children on the San Francisco Child Care Connection (SF3C), an online system that uses a single application for families seeking subsidized care, by providing workshops, and by attending events that promote early literacy. A good example of this is a recent workshop she helped to coordinate with Good Samaritan staff on the importance of a preschool experience and how families can access the variety of programs that are available (photo). They partnered with two other Mission Promise Neighborhood partners — the SFUSD Early Education Department and Mission Neighborhood Centers Early Head Start/Head Start — to present to a group of parents on March 23.

A high-quality preschool experience can lead to readiness at kinder, critical to a child’s later academic success. Alvarado explains, “It is expected that a kindergartener will understand things such as being able to identify letters, numbers and shapes. If that is not the case, a child is already behind on Day One.”

Then there are social skills, with conflict resolution and being able to follow a routine expected upon enrollment in kindergarten.

Continues Alvarado, “Parents do not always have the tools necessary to get their child on the right track, especially if they are immigrants with circumstances that translated to them not being able to achieve a high education level in their homeland, or if they do not speak English well.” Good Samaritan provides ESL classes to many families, so they focused on this group of immigrant families to impart the importance of preschool.

Alvarado has come to realize that the families with whom she works experience many barriers in accessing high-quality early care and education programs in the Mission. Some of the barriers are the lack of infant-toddler capacity compared to the number/need of children under 4 years of age, families’ comfort level with accessing services, and the cost of high-quality care for children that do not qualify for a subsidy. Early Head Start/Head Start, for example, requires a family to meet the Federal Poverty Level Income Guidelines. For 2016, a family of three would need to make under $20,160 to qualify.

A high-quality preschool experience is critical to school readiness, and early care and education providers in the Mission are working hard to provide the highest quality possible to the children in their programs. Data on the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for Mission Promise Neighborhood sites from 2013 to 2015 shows a higher level of overall quality at 4.1, compared to the rest of the City’s 3.5 rating. (Data source: First 5SF.)

As “Week of the Young Child” is celebrated in the Mission Promise Neighborhood, let’s honor all of the teachers, partners, families and community members that better children’s lives every day, meeting challenges and creating impact.

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About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

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