News & Notes:

Watch It: Building Quality Child Care

Parenting Topic: Developing Self-Regulation in Children

Spotlight: Raising a Reader

Sean’s Message


Contra Costa Receives Grant to Improve Preschool Quality

block_grant_200 x100Last month, the California Department of Education (CDE) announced that Contra Costa County will receive an annual $1.4 million block grant to improve preschool quality for low-income children.

The block grant was included in California’s 2014-15 State Budget and provides $50 million in ongoing grants to support quality improvements in California preschools. The goal is to increase the number of low-income children attending high-quality preschool programs, which research shows prepares children for success in school and life.

The CDE block grant builds upon California’s pilot Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) – a uniform system to rate, improve, and communicate levels of child care quality – taking place in 16 counties. There are 100 child care programs participating in the QRIS in Contra Costa County.

Per the CDE block grant, funds must be used to support California State Preschool Program (CSPP) sites. These are preschool programs that receive state subsidies to serve low-income children. There are 58 CSPP sites in Contra Costa County, primarily run by nonprofit child care centers and school districts. More than half of the CSPP programs in Contra Costa already participate in the QRIS rating system.

Funds from the CDE block grant will be used to recognize providers who score high QRIS ratings and to help programs with lower scores raise quality. The incentives are designed to improve and maintain quality by keeping teacher-child ratios low, paying for qualified staff, and supporting strong teacher-child interactions.

Contra Costa’s $1.4 million grant will support:

  • Stipends between $2,500 to $5,000 to all CSPP sites participating in the QRIS
  • Site quality improvement mini-grants for sites seeking help reaching top ratings
  • Quality grants to CSPP providers who successfully score in the top two ratings
  • Training and support for CSPP sites not currently participating in QRIS
  • A public awareness campaign about the nature and importance of quality preschool
  • Monitoring and rating of new QRIS participants

The CDE block grant builds on the federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge funding First 5 Contra Costa received to pilot a QRIS in Contra Costa County, along with funds we’ve allocated over the last 15 years to increase the education and training of Contra Costa’s child care workforce.

In addition to the County Office of Education, our partners in these quality improvement efforts include Contra Costa County’s Community Services Bureau, the county’s three community colleges, West Contra Costa Unified School District, and the Contra Costa Child Care Council.

For additional information about the grant and/or QRIS program, contact First 5 Early Childhood Program Officer Edirle Menezes at (925) 771-7333 or Ruth Fernandez, CCCOE, at (925) 942-3413.


Ensuring Opportunity Campaign Hires New Director

Mariana_Moore_200 x100Ensuring Opportunity, a campaign we’re participating in to cut poverty in Contra Costa County, is moving full steam ahead. In late February, campaign organizers announced that Mariana Moore was selected to become theEnsuring Opportunity’s first Director.

For the past nine years, Mariana served as Director of the Human Services Alliance of Contra Costa, a coalition of nonprofits that partner with public agencies to serve low-income residents. She has spent nearly three decades in the nonprofit sector, serving as executive director, board president, consultant, trainer and coach for organizations throughout the Bay Area. Mariana is a graduate of Mills College, and honed her leadership skills as a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs.

A Richmond native, Mariana also brings a deep personal passion to her new role. As a former low-income, single parent, she understands firsthand the structural barriers that create and perpetuate poverty. We’re excited to help welcome Mariana to her new role!

Visit to join the effort or learn more.


Strategic Planning Update

strat_plan_200 x100Join us May 13, 2015 for a Strategic Planning Retreat!

First 5 Contra Costa’s current five-year Strategic Plan ends this June and we expect to have a new five-year plan in place by fall 2015. The new plan will last through 2020.

At the May Retreat, Commissioners will review our achievements to date, additional funding opportunities, the current landscape for children in Contra Costa County, and information gathered in the planning process through interviews, focus groups and surveys.

The Retreat will take place at the Pleasant Hill Community Center, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Public comment is welcome.

As the date nears, look for the agenda and other supplemental information to posted on


Watch It: Building Quality Child Care

building_care_200 x100Young children learn best with well-trained and educated teachers. That’s why First 5 Contra Costa has been working to increase the skills and education of our county’s child care workforce for the last 15 years. Last year alone, these efforts reached more than 1,000 child care providers working at 215 different child care programs in Contra Costa County.

This video features two family child care providers who share how First 5 support has helped them to provide higher quality early learning experiences for young children. Watch it!


Parenting Topic: Developing Self-Regulation in Children

self regulation_200 x100This article was provided by Raising a Reader Bay Area.

Self-regulation is the ability to manage impulses and ignore distractions. It is more complex than self-control since it also involves the ability to focus attention. The better children can stay calmly focused and alert, the better they will be at handling complex tasks and working cooperatively with others.

For children to control their own behavior, they need to identify their feelings first. Children need help from adults to help teach them this important skill.

For parents:

  • When children get upset help them express what they are going through verbally (“I hear you yelling because you are angry”)
  • Play stop and go or freeze games, like red light, green light
  • Recognize your child’s good behavior with positive feedback
  • Tell children when they’ve done a good job and that you’re proud of them

For child care providers at story time:

  • Ask children to follow patterns of movement, from one extreme to another (fast to slow or big to little)
  • Provide clear instructions or guidelines for anything you ask the children to doFind moments to act out something happening in the story (providing a break from sitting still and the opportunity to follow directions)
  • Remind children to “wait their turn” to share an idea about the story
  • Encourage children to identify emotions displayed in the story and relate them to their own experience
  • Call attention to a child’s positive actions, such as children who are sitting patiently

Find more early literacy information & tips for parents and child care providers from Raising a Reader Bay Area.


Spotlight: Raising a Reader

Literacy_Programs_LEFT_200 x100Reading aloud to young children is one of the most effective ways for parents to prepare their children for success in kindergarten, yet research shows 60% of low-income families do not have a single children’s book at home. The Raising a Reader program is changing that, one red bag at a time.

Raising a Reader provides low-income toddlers and preschoolers with an ongoing rotation of books to enjoy with their parents. The books are rotated and distributed in bright red bags through local child care programs and First 5 Centers whose staff teach parents about the importance of reading daily with their children. Just one year of Raising a Reader exposes children to 100 different high-quality children’s books.

Last year, First 5 Contra Costa awarded $225,000 to Raising a Reader Bay Area to run the program locally. Raising a Reader is now located in 110 early learning sites in Contra Costa and serves about 3,000 children annually.

Child care providers working in these programs receive training and support to promote literacy concepts with parents and to build early literacy skills with children. One popular training has been to have Raising a Reader staff to model interactive read aloud sessions with demonstrations focused on topics such as phonological awareness, building vocabulary, social and emotional understanding, developing self-regulations, practicing print awareness and fostering critical thinking. Child care providers also receive written information with additional tips, along with book marks for parents to reinforce and build these concepts at home.

Evaluation of the Raising a Reader program shows that families who participated spent more time sharing books together, visited the library more often, and children improved in their language development.

Learn more at


Sean’s Message

sean_portraitThe Preschool Makes a Difference preschool scholarship program, which since 2010 has helped more than 600 low-income families send their children to high-quality preschool, will end June 30, 2015. Generously supported by a five-year $6 million, Thomas J. Long Foundation grant, PMD scholarships helped pave the way for a system that incentivizes providers to raise the quality of their programs and gives parents the power to choose the best high-quality program for their child.

This model is why Contra Costa was among only 16 California counties to receive federal funding to pilot a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), which is currently underway. Just under half of our 101 participants were also PMD sites.

First 5 Contra Costa remains committed to providing children, particularly low-income children, with high-quality early care and education. We will continue to provide professional development opportunities to early education professionals and programs through QRIS and the Professional Development Program. Due to the grant ending, however, there will no longer be scholarships offered through PMD.

PMD scholarships have helped elevate the quality of early care and education in Contra Costa County over the last five years. Thank you to all of the preschool programs who have participated and worked hard to raise and maintain the quality of their programs. And thanks also to the Contra Costa Child Care Council, which helped parents apply for scholarships and choose their provider. And on behalf of the Children and Families Commission, and 600 grateful families across Contra Costa, I wish to express our deep gratitude to the Thomas J. Long Foundation for funding this innovative program and effective model.

“Preschool Makes a Difference” is also the name of our county plan to provide universal access to high-quality preschool for our children in Contra Costa. That vision remains our “North Star”, the goal we strive for every year. Children benefit from high-quality preschool. It does make a difference. There’s no doubt about it. It’s time for California and the country to deepen investments and ensure that all children have access to high-quality preschool, and to the futures they deserve.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director