THE FIRST 5 YEARS: Local Early Learning Advocacy & Education

Over the next five years, the Riverside County Children & Families Commission (First 5 Riverside) will invest more than $69 million  to narrow a critical gap in quality early learning programs for Riverside County children through age 5. The Commission is also working closely with countywide agencies to create an early learning master plan, a quality rating and improvement system and a parent education campaign. These efforts align with current quality-focused state and national movements.

“The first 1,000 days of a child’s life – the most critical developmental period – is key to their success and education for the rest their life,” says Tammi Graham, First 5 Riverside’s executive director. “In these early years, research shows that children who participate in high-quality early care and preschool programs have better health, social-emotional and cognitive outcomes than those who don’t.”


One-on-one attention, skilled teachers, age appropriate learning toys and lessons, responsive interactions and rich conversations – all contribute to the “quality” of a child’s early learning experience.

An aspect of quality can also be the teachers and what they can bring to the center or activity, says Toni Rangel, program director for Riverside City College’s Child Development Center.

child playing with shape sorterFirst 5 Riverside funds early learning and care scholarships, professional development and support, as well as materials to increase quality and access throughout Riverside County.

Without such support through the Martha’s Village & Kitchen Child Development Program, more than 100 children would fall through the gaps. Rosa E. Torres, program manager, says families that attend the Indio center face a variety of challenges. They are the homeless, families in transitional programs, teen parents, grandparents raising grandchildren and families facing crisis such as domestic violence or unemployment.

 “These families have been through a lot, some even faced with paying for child care or rent or food,” Torres said. “Here, we provide structure and help rebuild that important family bond lost because of their circumstances.”

Adeline Munoz says First 5 Riverside support has helped her become a working mother. Jessica Castrejon, who recently found herself homeless with five children, said she is grateful for the roof over her head and child care so she can work on getting things done for her family. Meanwhile Leticia Gomez is thrilled that her 4-year-old is learning language, communicating successfully in both English and Spanish when a few years ago, he only knew Spanish.


English/Spanish Checklists: What to look for when searching for quality early learning/child care –

Riverside County Office of Education Resource & Referral: Call 800-442-4927 or visit – for referrals to licensed quality child care in Riverside County based on your needs.

Quality Start – RivCo: Learn more about professional development, coaching, incentives and more to help raise quality in early learning throughout Riverside County.

FIRST 5 Update: Water Safety in Riverside County


This year alone, four children through age 5 have drowned and 28* have had a near drowning experience.

This summer, First 5 Riverside grantees – The YMCA of Riverside County and the Riverside University Health System Public Health’s Injury Prevention Services provided swim lessons, water safety information and CPR training to help avoid senseless tragedy.  The Commission also recently approved grant funding for the Desert Healthcare Foundation‘s Ready Set Swim! Jr. program in the Coachella Valley, which will launch next month. Classes will be held at pools in Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Indio, Coachella and Mecca. Workshops and presentations will be held throughout the desert region.  See and share the English or Spanish flyer.

By the end of next summer 850 children and 1,700 parents/caregivers are expected to participate in grantee programs.

Stay connected with us for more updates and details.

* As of 8/17/16

Sienna Garcia

Know and practice the ABCs of Drowning Prevention:

 A is for ACTIVE ADULT Supervision – Maintain constant eye contact when your child playing in or near water. Most children under age 5 have no fear of water and no concept of death. Water is associated with play. Being intensely focused on your supervising duties is essential to your child’s safety.

Next are BARRIERS This includes installing a fence, gates, latches, alarms, pool safety nets and covers to effectively keep children safe. Multiple barriers should be used and tested frequently to make sure they are functioning properly.

And, finally, be proactive and seek CLASSES – to learn proper rescue techniques, how to swim and water safety practices for the whole family.

First 5 Riverside is a proud member of the Riverside County Water Safety Coalition. Get more resources at

It’s time to focus on keeping children safe around water

There is a list of basic life skills all parents instinctively know they must teach their children to keep them safe and healthy. It includes habits like looking both ways before crossing the street, washing hands with soap and water and eating the right amount of fruits and vegetables every day.

For too many parents, safety in and around water is not high on the list and that’s something we need to change.

Fatal drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years old. For children under the age of 5, more than 60 drowning deaths per year occurred statewide over the last 5 years. The problem is particularly acute among minority communities. African American children are three times more likely to drown than their white counterparts. The disparity is partly due to the lack of swimming experience among these children.

According to a recent national research study conducted by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, 70 percent of African American and 60 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, compared to just 40 percent of Caucasian children.

The YMCA of Riverside County is committed to reducing water-related injuries, particularly in communities where children are most at risk. Joining us in the cause is First 5 Riverside, Riverside County Children and Families Commission. First 5 Riverside invests in partnerships that promote, support and enhance the health and early development of Riverside County children, prenatal through age 5, their families and communities.

As part of the program, the Y will provide opportunities to children from low-income and underserved communities to participate in free water safety lessons. The lessons teach young people valuable skills like what to do if they find themselves in the water unexpectedly, a situation every child should be equipped to handle. Two sessions will run this summer at Shamel Park in Riverside from June to July and from August to September.

If you know how to stay safe in and around water, swimming can be a lifelong source of fun and exercise. Instead of keeping your children away from water, help them learn fundamental water safety skills by enrolling them in lessons. These classes can provide them a new, exciting way to keep active and meet new friends.

To learn more about the Y’s Safety Around Water program, please visit!

For more resources about water safety, visit

Strengthening Families, Changing Lives

More than 40 programs throughout Riverside County are funded through First 5 Riverside grants to increase quality early learning, improve child health and strengthen families.

El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center provides home visits to Riverside County families with children challenged by poverty, isolation, language and literacy barriers to promote social-emotional and language development. Last fiscal year, Promotoras, or home visitors, worked with 525 children and 510 parents through this program.

Here is the experience from a Promotora:

I wanted to share an incredible experience “Families Learning Together” staff had recently.

I got a call from a Jurupa Valley Unified School District kindergarten teacher. She was interested in learning more about our program and how she can get more of the families in her district involved in participating.

elsolsepia2This longtime teacher was shocked by the level of both academic knowledge and social-emotional readiness one of her students possessed. She explained that this child was “even more prepared both intellectually and emotionally for kindergarten” than some of her students who went to preschool.

She explained that the child’s parent was also the first parent in line to sign up as a parent volunteer in her classroom. This parent also expressed an interest in participating in the school’s Parent Teacher Association and District English Learner Advisory Committee programs.

Impressed by this special family, the teacher asked the parent how she prepared her child for kindergarten. The parent explained that she and her child participated in two cycles of “Families Learning Together” Home visitation program (HIPPY curriculum) offered by El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center. 

The parent was eager to share all that she had learned. She told the teacher all about her weekly home visits designed to empower the parent to be their child’s first and most important teacher. She told her all about the family group meetings she attended while enrolled in the program.

After speaking with this teacher, had the opportunity to present our program at a parent meeting, although I was hesitant due to our limited staff in that area and our ever growing wait-list.

elsolsepiaThe most beautiful part about this experience was that I got to witness the overwhelming impact our program has had not only on the child, but on the parent. I stayed for the duration of the meeting, where topics were discussed and parents had many questions. My heart was filled when our parent was often the first to stand up and give advice and offer solutions to other parents. Our HIPPY parent was transformed?! Not only is she a busy house wife and loving mother, but also, she is a leader, she has a voice, she loves her community and has the confidence to stand up and make a difference, not just with her family but with all she comes into contact.

The result of this presentation is of course, an even larger waiting list, but also a partnership with a local school district.

I feel so honored to work in a program that changes lives and strengthens families and communities.

Amelia Zepeda-El Sol Promotora (September 2015)

El Sol 3