Elevating Investment in Youngest of California

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    Alejandra Campoverdi advocates investing in pre-K initiatives, including dual-language programs, for California ’s most at-risk children

    One of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs in life is raising a child. My mother faced this responsibility alone, raising me as a single parent just a few years after immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico.

    Luckily, she had the support of my grandmother, who played a pivotal role in my childhood—filling our home with music, creativity, and homemade tortillas. Yet what we had in love we lacked in resources. So we relied at times on welfare, WIC, and Medi-Cal to make ends meet. I was too young then to understand all the systems—social and familial—that were actively investing in my capacity to thrive in the future.

    Now, with the perspective of age and time, as well as with the experience of working for President Obama in the White House, I am especially passionate about ensuring that all young people have access to the critical support and resources they need to succeed, which is why I am honored to have been appointed as First 5 California’s newest commissioner. My family, like many families in California, faced financial, cultural, language, and educational obstacles at every turn, and many times, it is California’s youngest who slip through the cracks.

    Recognizing this fact, voters passed Proposition 10 in 1998, which added a new revenue stream, funded completely by a new tobacco tax, to make the welfare, health, and education of California’s children one of our state’s top priorities. This was the inception of First 5 California and its mission—to help ensure that all parents giving birth in California, especially those of greatest need, receive support, resources, and information to help their children succeed.

    Since 1998, First 5 California has invested in the design and implementation of comprehensive early education and health programs, along with resources and support, to address the needs of children ages zero to five and their families. We work with the First 5 commissions in all 58 counties to develop and fund efforts that are tailored specifically to the needs of local communities to ensure that children begin school healthy and ready to learn.

    Our programs are currently focused on early brain development, health and nutrition, early literacy and language development, systems for quality childcare and preschool, and smoking cessation.

    Through our “Talk. Read. Sing.” campaign, we focus on messaging and information about the verbal engagement during a baby’s first months and years that stimulates critical brain growth, helps build vocabulary, and prepares them for school and success in life. It is a multifaceted media effort that includes television, radio, and online messaging, outreach, and the First 5 Express—a moving tour that travels throughout the state demonstrating activities and providing free materials to parents and caregivers to help them in this effort.

    Since its inception, First 5 California, in partnership with the county commissions, has distributed more than five million kits for new parents. These kits provide helpful information and resources for the well-being of newborns and are most often sent home with new parents when they leave the hospital after giving birth.

    First 5 California also has made a significant multiyear investment in First 5 IMPACT (Improve and Maximize Programs so All Children Thrive), an innovative approach for high-quality early education and care that provides early educators and families the information and support they need to promote and optimize their children’s development and learning, both inside and outside the home. First 5 IMPACT uses research-based strategies to promote and support a comprehensive and coordinated early-learning and development system.

    First 5 California recently partnered with Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, Legal Aid at Work, the California Employment Lawyers Association, and the California Work and Family Coalition to sponsor and champion the passage of SB 63. This bill, which Governor Brown recently signed, extends job protections and leave time to 2.6 million more Californians when they become parents. Previously, only parents working for very large employers had a right to take up to twelve weeks of parental leave. With this new law, more parents will have basic job protections and be able to spend time caring for their newborns.

    We are in the process of developing a dual language learner pilot program to identify effective strategies that support dual-language development across early-learning settings; engage families to support their children’s dual-language development; and create learning opportunities for educators, caregivers, and program administrators to effectively support the learning and development of young dual language learners.

    When I walked my mother into the Oval Office to meet President Obama, I could not help but think about what a full-circle moment it was. Here was the same single mother who had struggled to survive in an embrace with the president of the U.S. Who knows what futures await California’s children, if only they are given all the tools they need to thrive? As we look toward the future and its myriad challenges, First 5 California and its stakeholder partners will continue to collaborate to help ensure every child in the state is given the best possible start in life. It is an investment in a better California, in our shared economic future, and in a brighter and better world for millions of young children.

    Elevate CA, an effort to highlight and expand ideas and policies that promote upward mobility, is a focus of the 2017 California Economic Summit, which begins Thursday, November 2 in San Diego.

     

    Alejandra Campoverdi is a former White House aide, an advocate for women’s health issues, a media executive, and a commissioner for First 5 California. A farmworker’s daughter, Alejandra served as Director of Multicultural Content for the Los Angeles Times. Alejandra previously served as founding Managing Editor of #EmergingUS, a digital magazine founded by Jose Antonio Vargas that explores the emerging American identity and lives at the intersection of race, immigration, and identity in a multicultural America. Prior to joining the Times, Alejandra served as Senior Advisor for Innovation and Communications Strategy for Univision Network News and was a part of the team that launched Fusion. She was a special election candidate who sought election to the U.S. House to represent the 34th Congressional District of California. Alejandra is also a volunteer teacher for Inside Out Writers, through which she teaches a weekly creative writing class to incarcerated youth in juvenile detention facilities in Los Angeles.

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