San Jose

A look at the San Jose community's early learning efforts

San Jose

If California were its own country, it would have the eighth-largest economy in the world, according to the World Bank. In recent years, the state has outpaced most of the United States in economic growth, due in large part to the technology industry in Silicon Valley. Located in the southern San Francisco Bay Area, in Santa Clara County, the region is famous as the birthplace of Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Google. The area’s rolling hills are home to Stanford University and to tony suburbs like Mountain View and Los Altos, where Facebook and Google engineers are likely to raise their families. Modest two-bedroom homes in these communities sell for over a million dollars. At the epicenter of all this is San Jose, which is often named one of the richest cities in America.

But community leaders say this valley is also a place where people do not always see what really exists. About 15 miles from Google’s campus is the Santee neighborhood of East San Jose, where 86 percent of students at the local elementary school are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch. Eighty-one percent are English Language learners. Families here, many of whom are recent immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Asia, often have some connection to the tech industry—working, for example, as service staff on the tech campuses or in manufacturing plants. Yet many are struggling to put food on the table.

Some of these families bought homes in far-out suburbs in central California before the recession, but lost them in the housing crisis. Today, due to the high cost of living in the region, many are now working multiple jobs and living with two to three families and as many as 12 children in two-bedroom apartments, for which they pay upwards of $2,500 a month. There are very few formal care centers for young children in this neighborhood and those who know the community well say most kids are cared for by family, friends, and neighbors. Issues such as low-quality housing, gang activity, and chronic health problems all impede children’s ability to succeed, and thrive, when they reach elementary school.

But many in San Jose recognize the importance of early learning. Thanks to robust community efforts and leadership from San Jose’s Franklin-McKinley School District, things are changing. After five years of work to build partnerships and braid public and private funding dollars, the district is now home to Educare California at Silicon Valley, the first such school in the state. The center is a full-day, full-year early learning and family support program, which is housed in a $13 million building that opened in September 2016 adjacent to the campus of Santee Elementary School. The center is meant to serve as a model early learning environment and a professional development training center. With the arrival of Educare and new support from the Packard Foundation, the school district has begun a ten-year strategy to improve the day-to-day practices of adults who work with children from birth to age five. As Educare Silicon Valley’s new executive director Lisa Kaufman told the San Jose Mercury News in September, "this is Page 1 of a very exciting journey."


The video below spotlights work by the Franklin-McKinley School District to train Pre-K and kindergarten teachers to better support children's social emotional learning.

Writing on San Jose