Unequal access to resources in Sonoma County plays a key role in the kindergarten readiness gap between white and Latinx children uncovered by a local study by the Road to Early Achievement and Development for Youth (READY) program.
The 2016-2019 Sonoma County School Readiness Report released in June, 2020 discovered only 26% of Latinx children classified as prepared for kindergarten while 51% of white children scored as “ready to go” in its 2019-2020 equity and readiness findings.
Eight Sonoma County school districts from Cloverdale, Forestville, Healdsburg, Windsor, Santa Rosa and beyond participated in the study of 5,457 children in total that used Kindergarten Student Entrance Profiles to measure academic knowledge and social-emotional readiness, like verbal skills, recognizing and writing one's own written name, playing cooperatively with others and self-regulation.
The READY study indicated white children had more access than Latinx children to knowledge and social-emotional skill-building experiences that prepare them to successfully launch their kindergarten education, like early childcare and reading at home every day, according to the county Human Services Department’s Dec. 16 press release.
A lack of internet access, unaffordable childcare, poverty and the dearth of cultural and language diversity of learning resources catered to the dominant white culture all factor into lower readiness, the study found.
The local income disparity between white and Latinx parents comes into play in affording early learning opportunities. The study reported children from families with an annual income of $100,000 or higher were more than twice as likely to register as “ready to go,” over children with $34,999 yearly family incomes or lower.
The READY study reported 48% of the white families studied in Sonoma County made at least $100,000 a year, compared to just 11% of Latinx families, and 44% of Latinx families had an annual family income of $34,999 or less, as opposed to 16% of white families.
Local organizations support both parents and children to build kindergarten readiness in Spanish-Speaking families
“I truly believe it comes down to opportunities that are presented versus achievements,” said Diana Avila, child development program director at River to Coast Children’s Services (RCCS) in Guerneville. The organization offers resources and referrals for various services and specialists to families and childcare providers.
Avila said there has been a struggle to provide Latinx families with accessible childcare and early learning opportunities for years and childcare availability plummeted by 50% in the area since the start of the pandemic.
Major obstacles facing parents are childcare costs, a lack of time, the language barrier and internet access in the more isolated areas of the county, according to Avila.
“I think one of the biggest things we have to consider with Latinx families in particular is that they have to be okay, available and ready to seek out resources because there are resources,” she said.
Avila said sometimes Latinx parents feel embarrassed or strapped for time and may task older children to assist the younger ones with early schoolwork instead of seeking out the monthly RCCS parent advisory committee or other support classes.
RCCS staff try to assure parents they do not need to explain their immigration status to ask for resources. According to Avila, about 90% of RCCS office staff speak Spanish and English and parents tend to lower their guard when they hear someone speak their language on the other end of the phone.
“Even if it’s parents being able to open up and talk to us and letting them vent and then being able to provide activities or suggestions or recommendations, I think that’s even a start because then they feel comfortable,” she said. From there, parents may get more involved and ask questions about their child’s progress or behaviors, Avila said.
The kindergarten readiness gap can begin with parents not having enough time to engage with their young children. “So, are they having enough time to talk, to read, to sing, to learn with their children? Even doing day to day stuff like matching socks. Hello, that’s cognition,” she said.
Pre-kindergarten or kindergarten readiness calls on numerous domains of child development, she said. “So, of course literacy is one of them, but if a child isn’t socially, emotionally developed or cognitively developed, then that’s also going to affect their literacy domain. So we want to really focus on all the domains because they’re all important to that child,” Avila said.
Avila said she noticed many parents do not read to their children because they don’t know how to read English and fear using Spanish will confuse their children.
“Latinx parents are starting not to let their roots and origins come out when reading or learning with children because they want to ensure that English is their primary language,” she said.
“But that’s a stigma. It’s not true. If anything having children learn two languages at a time is extremely great for their cognitive brain and their social and emotional development. So, if parents are able to even read to their children in Spanish, that’ll be great. Let’s get those letters in, at least in Spanish.”
Still, Avila said Latinx families can have a hard time if their children enter preschool or pre-kindergarten as children may realize their parents do not speak English and feel intimidated, and the teacher may not speak Spanish, either.
At the monthly parent advisory meeting on Zoom, RCCS staff talk about healthy eating, supporting children through trauma, how to find math and English resources and connect parents to the office’s children books in different languages.
RCCS staff also advise parents to ease up on their older children and take a bigger role in teaching their youngest children. Avila said older and more traditional Latinx parents may rely on their older children more because they may be more familiar with school, technology and other information to foster the learning for the younger ones.
Meanwhile, education around trauma is important because Latinx families tend to have higher adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, and that early trauma links to challenges in development, socioeconomic status and education, she said.
Although the services center has increased its online Spanish content, Avila said internet connectivity is difficult to begin with and it is becoming more difficult for Latinx families to pay for access.
Having one’s native language, traditions and values woven into their learning is important because it’s part of who the child is, she said. “You can’t just take that away from the child. So ,when we’re not seeing curriculum that’s diverse, or we’re not including aspects of children’s life that comes differently than their counterparts, it’s very difficult to say there isn’t going to be a gap. It’s inevitable, at that point,” she said.
The READY study also found that children from families with a yearly income of $35,000 or lower were nearly three times more likely to score as “ready to go” when their parents enrolled in AVANCE, a parenting and child development program under Community Action Partnership Sonoma County (CAP Sonoma) for parents of children younger than three years-old.
Furthermore, the study found children in families making $35,000 or less a year were more than twice as likely to classify as “ready to go” if they enrolled in CAP Sonoma’s Pasitos PlayGroups, for children two and a half to four years-old and their parents to prepare for preschool and kindergarten.
CAP Sonoma also has Via Esperanza Centro de Educación, a family resource center in Santa Rosa that equips Spanish-speaking parents with tools to navigate their own education in Spanish and English and access resources to break those barriers for their children.
Its program coordinator Iliana Madrigal said a two-generation approach that supports Latinx parents is essential to closing the gap.
“In my personal view, if the parents don’t know they can go to a library and get free books, to start bilingual books, how are they going to motivate themselves to do an early pre-kindergarten education? Because they're tired. Sometimes, some families have even three jobs,” Madrigal said.
Again, parents struggling to pay their rent and groceries sometimes do not have the time to utilize services, she said, no matter how much outreach Via Esperanza and service providers like RCCS or Corazón Healdsburg do. Some parents don’t have a bank account due to their immigration status, Madrigal said.
Oscar Chavez, Assistant Director of the Human Services Department and chair of First 5 Sonoma, said in the press release that families lost childcare options and jobs because of the pandemic and this year’s wildfires, “both factors that affect school readiness.”
According to the READY study, disasters like the wildfires and floods sustained in the past three consecutive years in Sonoma County disrupt learning and traumatize the community. A child’s “Learning Brain” can become a “Survival Brain in chronic alarm state,” affecting development and potentially leading to lifelong health struggles, it said.
The report found socio-political factors generally impact the transition into kindergarten as well. “Locally, Public Charge legislation has led to fewer families seeking public benefits for fear that accessing such services, even if they are entitled to them, could jeopardize their ability to gain permanent legal status,” the report said.