(Photo Credit: American Institutes for Research)
Alejandra Campoverdi is a former White House aide, an advocate for women’s health issues and media executive. She is also a commissioner for First 5 California. We asked her to share her thoughts on what can be to help lift 18 million Californians who live in or near poverty into the middle class. She believes that the job starts long before children find themselves in school.
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 mom just a few years after immigrating to the United States 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’m 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 in birth in California, especially those of greatest need, receive the 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 0 to 5 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 a critical brain growth, helps build vocabulary, and prepares them for school and success in life. It’s a multi-faceted media effort that includes television, radio, and online messaging, outreach, and the First 5 Express — a moving tour that travels throughout the state and demonstrates activities and provides 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 hospital after giving birth.
First 5 California also has made a significant, multi-year 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 12 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 couldn’t help but think about what a full circle moment it was. Here was the same single mother who struggled to survive, in an embrace with the President of the United States. 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’s 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.