Co-authored by:
Associate Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Liz Cortez
Early Learning Program Manager, Mission Promise Neighborhood Ada Freund
Chief Operations Officer, Felton Institute, Dr. Yohana Quiroz

Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) was honored to speak this week at the Community Indicators Consortium (CIC) impact summit, an annual conference with an audience of national and international policymakers, researchers and practitioners. This year’s powerful theme was “Community Indicators for Change: Responding, Rebuilding, and Advancing Equity.” We showcased MPN partner Felton Institute, together sharing best practices from our equity-focused collective impact work to improve school-readiness outcomes for the Latino and immigrant community of San Francisco’s Mission District.

Why school readiness matters
Overwhelming evidence indicates that children who enter kindergarten behind are likely to remain behind throughout their educational careers and beyond. For the 2019-2020 school year in San Francisco, Latinx children showcased the highest disparity in school readiness: Latinx children were 44% ready compared to 76% of their white peers.*

MPN focuses on combatting this disparity and has inspired a movement with partners and families to reverse this trend. MPN early care and education programs serve 85% Latinx children, with 99% of them eligible for local, state and federal subsidies. Of the approximately 68% of children who qualify for a federal subsidy, families qualify using the 2021 federal poverty level of $26,500 for a family of four — exceeding low by San Francisco standards.

The equitable-focused, community-centered, collective impact strategies that MPN has devised and implemented over time have led to positive results. For instance, a recent MPN PreK longitudinal study demonstrated that participation in preschool is not enough for our community’s low-income children of color. Our 2018 study found that children who attended an MPN preschool and whose families participated in various programs and services across our network were 71% ready at kindergarten compared to the Mission District average of 43%. 

MPN as a model, with infrastructure in place to meet a crisis head-on
MPN works to close the achievement and opportunity gap. For close to a decade, MPN has developed deep relationships with 15+ partners, including nine early learning partners, and recently with an additional 13 family child care educators who collaborate on a common agenda to support children and families in being ready for school — and for schools being ready for children and families. Our unique prenatal to post-secondary pipeline of supports always puts families at the center as a way to create a strong foundation for economic stability and academic success. 

That success stems from our working together to break down organizational silos based on our commitment to a collective impact and Results-Based Accountability approach that includes: a common agenda; collecting data and consistently measuring results; coordinating mutually reinforcing activities; open and continuous communication; and, most importantly, taking a strengths-based approach when partnering with families in a culturally responsive and authentic way. 

MPN develops authentic partnerships with parents and caretakers by growing leadership capacity and addressing the critical role parents play in their children’s education. Parents are, in fact, their child’s first and most important teacher. Since 2017, when partners began aligning the Abriendo Puertas parenting and leadership program strategy, a total of 985 parents from eight partner agencies have participated in this evidence-based program. Additionally, 14 of these parents have completed the Abriendo Puerta facilitator training and are now actively facilitating the program in the Mission. Community agencies partnering with parents equals the latter becoming active changemakers. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community, MPN partners were best equipped to respond to the demands families were facing. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the Latinx community accounted for 50% of the COVID-19 positive cases while only making up 15% of San Francisco’s  population. Overcrowded living conditions and many being frontline essential workers coupled to cause a perfect storm. Most partners paused their usual programming and pivoted to a triage approach to ensure families had access to basic needs. Because of the existing MPN collective impact approach, we had the infrastructure in place to address the pandemic’s disproportionately negative impacts on our community. 

Partner highlight: FeltonDuring COVId-19, early learning partner Felton Institute became a community hub that provided immediate wraparound services to families. Additionally, Felton Institute continued to address children’s social and emotional needs to ensure young ones were kindergarten-ready.

Rooted in equity, Felton’s mission is to transform quality of life and promote social justice to accelerate community-led change. The vision is to drive positive and sustainable community-led change where all have equitable access to innovative, high-quality, evidence-informed services.

As an established community-based organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, Felton has built on its 133-year history addressing inequities to pivot and continue to innovate to address the conditions that were already prevalent before COVID-19 but have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Such issues include isolation, economic stress, food insecurity, stress and trauma, just to name a few, all which according to research are proven to negatively impact the well-being of families, their young children and the educators who care and educate them.

As an MPN early learning partner, Felton offers culturally relevant, trauma-informed early care and education and wraparound family support services for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families to reduce Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress using the Five Protective Factors: strengthening parental resilience; augmenting social connections; increasing knowledge of parenting and child development; providing concrete supports in times of need; and supporting social-emotional competence in young children. These services are offered in Felton’s early care and education programs, which are critical settings providing opportunities for prevention and early intervention support, allowing families to heal, build community and grow as leaders and advocates.

During the past 18 months, in addition to increasing access to food, basic needs and financial relief, Felton has also responded to children under the age of five who have and continue to suffer from mental health and stress. They have worked with their family/caregivers to ensure that kids’ social-emotional needs are addressed and they can bounce back from these stressful experiences. They have offered parenting support groups, small playgroups, one-on-one support for children, and mental health consultation for early childhood teachers and their families. Felton has added a School Counselor role to focus on on-site individual trauma recovery and family crisis intervention to program participants. This includes intake, assessment and diagnosis, plus treatment-plan development and referrals to other early-intervention services. In this role, the School Counselor provides child-family psychotherapy, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), case management and advocacy services within a multi-disciplinary team — and as part of the treatment plan of children and families. 

Their goal is to promote well-being and prevent mental health conditions by addressing the needs of young children ages 0-5, given the unique opportunity for positive development during these foundational years and by leveraging authentic family partnerships. This is important because the K-readiness data shows that our Black and Brown children are lagging in comparison to their peers. Felton’s role is to increase awareness of infant and early childhood mental health to reduce stigma and ensure they open (access) and maintain the doors open (continuity) to prevention and early intervention services for families in community-based settings. Felton believes addressing the social and emotional needs of children now is more critical than ever.

Many San Francisco children and families, particularly those in our BIPOC communities, are under significant and escalating toxic stress. These families are under siege due to the simultaneous pandemics of COVID-19 and racism. The current public health crisis has exposed the historical and modern inequities BIPOC and underserved communities have experienced throughout life, which include: poverty; racism; discrimination; trauma; financial hardships; education; health; and mental health. These twin pandemics, along with the current racial reckoning that has flared up in the United States, necessitate a holistic whole person and systems response. In addition, with the pandemic, this stress and the inequities have become even more profound, and many of these communities are part of the “essential” workers, being placed at increased risk for being infected with the virus; and vulnerability to take adequate sick and isolation time and may also not access timely health care for multiple reasons. The added mental stress and safety of their families and communities will also become critical factors but balancing basic shelter and food security and health for some economic survival will become tough choices. These challenges will continue to exacerbate these inequities and have negative short and long–term consequences for our community.

As an MPN partner, Felton values the partnership focused on collaboration, and taking a collective impact approach to systems change. The partnership with 15+ community-based organizations has allowed for the breaking down of silos as we align services, reduce duplication of services and move the needle on many fronts, but in particular, kindergarten readiness.

As a result of our success in aligning efforts across organizations and partnering with families, we have seen an increase in the percentage of children entering our schools kinder-ready. MPN has provided partners with intentional opportunities to collaborate, share data, and create new strategies to address the most pressing disparities in our community.

As we look at post-pandemic recovery, Felton continues to be nimble and proactive, and will continue to use a collective impact approach to ensure they can impact and improve the health and well-being of their families. They look forward to the strong and long-standing partnership with MPN to continue a collective agenda, goals and advocacy. Felton is committed to being part of the solution by providing a community-led, two/multi-generational, whole child, whole family approach — all while advocating for systems level response investments and infrastructure.
*Data Source: San Francisco Kindergarten Readiness Inventory,  2019-20. 

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Making a little over $35,000 doesn’t go very far in San Francisco, especially with housing costs through the roof. Imagine that meager pay level when you have already made an investment in post-secondary education.

Such is the case for the City’s 4,415 Early Childhood Education (ECE) professionals, who average $16.85 an hour and with 82 percent having attended college (one-third having achieved a Bachelor’s degree). ECE has the dubious distinction of affording graduates the lowest lifetime earnings of any college major.

This analysis comes from the San Francisco Child Care Planning and Advisory Council (CPAC). The CPAC is the state-mandated Local Planning Council (LPC), established to provide a forum for the identification of local priorities for child care and early education, and the development of policies to meet these needs. One of CPAC’s priorities for 2016 is advocating for increasing early care and educator pay to ensure a diverse and skilled workforce. 

To let people know of this situation, folks today took to the streets around San Francisco’s City Hall in the “Sixth Annual Walk Around the Block.” There were parents and children. Community members. Plus plenty of early childhood educators showcasing homemade signs demanding fairness for their profession. 

To support this advocacy, a contingent from Mission Promise Neighborhood took part in today’s event, with promotoras (community outreach workers) and parents from the Community Advisory Council part of the march. Mission Promise Neighborhood parents want their children to have the best early education possible, and for their children to graduate from college. Parents know that early childhood educators are critical to achieving this goal and that is why they showed up to support their teachers. Pay equity will help to attract and retain high-quality early childhood educators, and will allow them to stay in the City. Lourdes Dobarganes, promotora and mother of four, when asked why she is advocating for teachers stated, “¡Nuestros niños merecen maestros excelentes con sueldo digno!” (“Our children deserve excellent teachers that get paid fair wages!”)

“Birth to five is a critical stage of development, children deserve a high-quality early education, and this means that we need to invest in our early childhood workforce,“ explains Mission Promise Neighborhood Early Learning Manager Liz Cortez. Some cities have already been at the vanguard of overcoming this income disparity: New York City and Seattle now pay early childhood educators on par with K-12 educators.

In New York’s case, Mayor de Blasio two years ago announced steps to help community-based organizations attract and retain high-quality early childhood educators, as part of the historic expansion of full-day Pre-K programs for every child in the city.

Looking to replicate this model in equally pricey San Francisco, the hundreds who took to the streets today put forth a collective message that early childhood educators’ pay should be equal to that of K-12 educators.

Mission Promise Neighborhood is a collective of partners, many of them providing early care and education services to families with young children. These organizations experience challenges with attracting high quality early childhood educators because of the low wages and the high cost of living in San Francisco. High turnover is detrimental to young children who thrive on good relationships with their caregivers and teachers. Ada Alvarado, a former preschool teacher, left the early education field for many reasons, the principal reason being the low pay. She states, “There is a large disparity between the salary of early learning teachers and the cost of living in San Francisco. As a preschool teacher with a college degree and experience in the early learning field, I struggled to make ends meet with a preschool teacher salary. I invested so much in my profession and often asked myself, ‘Who was investing in me’?”

Children Services Division Director Dolores Terrazas of Mission Neighborhood Centers, a Mission Promise Neighborhood  partner, knows the need in the community. Terrazas states, “A quality experience in early education is directly linked to the investment in the people that provide this service; attracting, compensating and retaining teachers is paramount to a successful early education experience.”

These thoughts are echoed by Division Director Yohana Quiroz of Felton Institute Children, Youth and Family Services, also an MPN partner,  “Wage disparity for ECE teachers at Felton and across San Francisco is huge. Our teachers have dedicated their lives to serving our youngest learners and in making a difference in their school readiness and life trajectory.” Quiroz continues, “Despite being responsible for such a critical time in young children’s lives, the wage disparity between an ECE teacher and a K-12 educator is huge. These low wages make it difficult for them to afford living in San Francisco. Many actually qualify for public benefits.”

The cost of early care and education is increasingly high. An April 12 Wall Street Journal article titled, “States Where Day Care Costs More than College,” reported: ”In nearly half the country, it’s now more expensive to educate a 4-year-old in preschool than an 18-year-old in college, a finding that illustrates the rising burden many families face affording care for children.” Yet despite such increased costs, the pay for early childhood educators still lags.

It is time to close the wage gap between early childhood educators and K-12 educators.

To ensure that San Francisco elected officials and policymakers heard this message, Mission Promise Neighborhood promotoras and parents, along with their children, participated in various legislative visits after the march. They introduced themselves and the work of Mission Promise Neighborhood, plus spoke about the need to support early childhood educators. MPN families are committed to advocating for all young children in the Mission District.


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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2301 Mission Street, Suite 304
San Francisco, CA 94110

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