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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Backpack-Preview-Image-BlogA sweet eight-year-old approached a volunteer from Target, the awaiting youngster being handed the first of 2,000 free backpacks the company had generously donated to Mission District schoolchildren.

The child’s face was aglow as she rifled through the supplies in the backpack–her backpack.

Gracias. Thank you,” the grateful child sheepishly stated, cognizant that she was now prepared for the upcoming school year.

The student’s parent, who asked to remain nameless because of the dire financial situation that led her to be one of the first in line at John O’Connell High School for today’s free event, was equally grateful. She had arrived at 7:30am for the 10am event, just to ensure her daughter had what she needed to achieve this upcoming school year.

Gracias por la mochila. Muchas gracias,” echoed the mother as she thanked the volunteer for the free backpack, and then grasped her daughter’s hand as they walked inside to partake of the rest of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) activities.

School supplies fall down the list when you are trying to pay ever-escalating Mission rents and need to put food on the table every night. The reality is that around $28K a year–the average household income of MPN families, as determined by a recent Family Climate Survey–does not go very far these days in San Francisco. Especially if you are a single mother. Especially if you are an immigrant.

Backpack Giveaway
There were still 1,999 backpacks left to distribute to the anticipatory queue, snaking around three blocks for the first part of the 3-in-1 “Back to School Event.” This portion was made possible via the support of the San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office, Kindergarten 2 College, Walgreens, and Comcast, with Target donating the backpacks.

Backpack-6These backpacks had been stuffed with school supplies over the past few days. A bevy of volunteers from Google, LinkedIn, Deloitte Consulting and others was pieced together by MEDA to undertake this Herculean task.

Some volunteers were long-time neighborhood residents. Some were newcomers to the Mission or even lived elsewhere in the Bay Area. Regardless, they all selflessly chose to give back to the community.

At 11am, speakers took to the podium, with MEDA’s rousing Mattias Kraemer emceeing. The throng, which at this point packed the corridors to the max, was first welcomed by MEDA Executive Director Luis Granados, followed by District 9 Supervisor David Campos (pictured). The speakers continued, with sponsors of the event being given the chance to put forth their message.

Backpack-Campos-2By the time this part of the day’s event was concluded at 11:45am, all 2,000 backpacks had been given out—quite the feat.

“Get Connected!”
There was still much going on for the rest of the afternoon. MEDA’s third “Get Connected!” event, presented by Google, LinkedIn and the California Emerging Technology Fund, was held as a vital second part of the day, with the goal of continuing to bridge the digital divide in the Mission. Despite the neighborhood being action-central for the next greatest thing in tech, there are still residents who do not have an email. Yes, in 2014.

“There are issues regarding cost and relevancy. It can cost on average $65 a month to have high-speed internet in the home. And with two-thirds of our clients being immigrants, they may not see tech as being relevant to their lives. Our recent Family Climate Survey confirmed that 23% of MPN students do not have access to high-speed internet and a computing device in their home,” explained MEDA Technology Manager Richard Abisla.

MEDA deals daily with these two issues at Plaza Adelante, its neighborhood center. Today, the solution to that challenging issue was brought directly to MPN families.

MEDA Broadband Coach Erica Castillo’s table was abuzz with activity, as she counseled people on deals to obtain low-cost internet at home. Castillo explained that anyone whose child qualifies for free or low-cost lunch in school can partake in a program that is currently six months free and just $9.95 per month thereafter. An added plus: the first 50 people signing up today received a Nexus 7 tablet, generously donated by Google, so MPN families would actually have a personal computing device for their home.

Backpack-5By day’s end, there were 50 Mission residents who had signed up and were booting up their gleaming, new devices.

To deal with the relevancy issue, a cadre of tech volunteers offered to spend their Saturday teaching digital-literacy workshops. Some of these classes started with the basics, such as the fundamentals of using social media. Yes, in 2014.

All participants of the 21 workshops were eligible to enter a raffle to win other Google-donated Nexus 7 tablets. Google also sent a number of volunteers to help Mission families. LinkedIn employees did the same, the tech world banding together for a good cause.

To inspire the crowd, a Latino Career Panel was convened, with power players from the tech industry. Kim-Mai Cutler, a reporter for the popular online site TechCrunch, moderated the discussion with her usual panache. As panelists’ stories were revealed, the crowd realized there was a place at the table for them in the tech world.

Connections were made today–in more ways than one.

Mission Promise Neighborhood Resource Fair
Attendees of today’s event got to see the power of community partnering. After all, it’s not easy making sure that every family succeeds and every student achieves at four of the poorest-performing schools in San Francisco. That’s why MEDA initially rounded up over a score of neighborhood agencies to win this long-term battle, with many of these partners coming out in force today as part three of this back-to-school event.

Some of these nonprofits were tabling, availing financially challenged Mission residents of the resources that can better their lives. Other partners presented workshops on the same subject. It was all about helping people rise up.

Backpack-4-Crowd1“I am glad to know that there is so much available for my family. I never knew there were so many agencies willing to help,” stated Mission resident Lydia as she clasped a grouping of brochures.

It takes a community effort to make a far-reaching program, such as the Mission Promise Neighborhood, a success. It takes partners. It takes everyone in a community feeling they have a stake.

It takes a village–and today that village was called the Mission.

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