On October 13, 2016, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education (SCCOE) hosted The Raising of America, a film screening and public engagement campaign that helps reframe the way our society looks at early childhood health and development. Interweaving discoveries from neuroscience with scenes showing the day-to-day realities of working parents, The Raising of America dramatically portrays how difficult it is for families to provide the nurturing environments children need in the first five years of life, when 90% of brain development occurs.
In welcoming the audience of 200 business, community and education leaders, Dr. Laurel Jones, Cabrillo College President/Superintendent, thanked the SCCOE for holding this important event on the Cabrillo campus. “Some of our youngest students are only a few months old because we care for and educate the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers of Cabrillo students at our Children’s Center, where the future early education workforce is being trained.” Dr. Jones went on to express the importance of a community college in the economic vibrancy of Santa Cruz County. “Cabrillo College is a place of growth and transition, a place where individuals can work towards a brighter, more prosperous future, not only for themselves, but for their families, and for our community.”
Special Guest speaker, Jimmy Panetta, who started his own education at a community college, echoed Dr. Jones’ remarks about the role of education in building a better future for children, families and communities. As the grandson of an Italian immigrant who came to America to give his children and grandchildren a better life, Panetta told the crowd, “I am actually living my grandfather’s dream.”
As Monterey County’s Deputy District Attorney, Mr. Panetta has seen first-hand that American dream is not easy to achieve. Families, who come here for the same reasons as his grandfather, often find themselves struggling for survival in a fend-for-yourself society. In preparing the audience for the film, Panetta asked the same questions as the film’s producers, “Is there a better way to raise our children?”
Before the film began, series Associate Producer, Rachel Poulain, asked the audience to watch the documentary critically, asking how spending priorities and fiscal policies might change if we put the needs of children and families first. “Think about this, if we have a network that offers things like affordable quality child care, paid family leave, and affordable housing, then parents feel supported by society. Our community can help families provide the safe and secure environments kids need.” After viewing the powerful film, the audience weighed in, saying what they would like to see change. Shira Coleman talked about how families are having to fend for themselves. “I’d love to see more businesses providing family support so that parents could focus on the job of parenting.”
Santa Cruz City Fire Chief, James Frawley, echoed her concerns. “I was interested in the idea that America does not provide the same types of benefits in terms of family leave and support care for young families that other countries do, and that was shocking to me. I’m appalled by that and asking how we make the incremental changes that can take our country, as well as our own county, in the right direction.”
Larry Drury, Executive Director of GoKids, Inc., shared local statistics that put national issues into a more local context. One in five county children lives in poverty. 72% of women are in the workforce. Four out of five children spend an average of 35 hours per week in care outside the home.
This data came as no surprise to many of the educators in the audience, including early childhood educator, Julie Olsen Edwards, whose has spent decades advocating for improving the lives of children. She reminded the crowd, “We know how to solve these problems. What tends to happen is, you set up a program that does a fine job, and then its cut it by 20%, and then cut it by 10%, and so you end up with the frame, but not the program”.
County Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Faris Sabbah, agreed that it was time to take action. “I think about that critical window of time for us to be able to intervene in a generation of students, and how that window is closing. We need to change how we support our students and make sure we don’t miss that opportunity.”
Echoing the idea that we need to come together on behalf of children, faculty from Cabrillo’s Early Childhood Education department spoke out. Jean Gallagher-Heil picked up on the energy in the room, calling the event a “great call to action.” Sandy Davie agreed, saying, “Let’s claim what’s right about America, claim the powers that we have.” David Brody, Executive Director of First 5 Santa Cruz County, reminded the audience that “We need to work together to put an initiative on the 2018 ballot that will once and for all raise the revenue necessary to truly serve all young children in California.”
One of the remarks by Jimmy Panetta in his opening address summed up the buzz in the room as the event drew to a close. “I think we must realize that this is not just a single family issue. It is a community issue. It is a Central Coast issue. It is our country’s issue. And we start, by looking at it not as their issue, but as our issue.”