Equity in Action: Mission Promise Neighborhood’s Collective Impact Work to Improve School Readiness for our Kids

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: Felton
During 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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