For over fifty years, Felton Institute has fostered the educational endeavors of children and their families who have limited access to financial resources. These communities are far too often negatively impacted by disparities in education as well as institutional and judicial racism enabling a cradle-to-prison pipeline. Felton’s Children, Youth, Family, and Transitional Age Youth (CYFTAY) division, however, disrupts this trajectory.
As Chief Operations Officer Dr. Yohana I. Quiróz, Ed.D, who has over twenty-five years of experience advancing early care education, explains, “Our vision is rooted in the belief that intergenerational poverty and the school-to-prison pipeline can be dismantled by partnering with families and giving all children access to quality learning environments.” This approach has cultivated a cradle-to-college pipeline, with Felton’s programs boasting many university hopefuls and graduates.
Profiled here are two college students and a college graduate who share their successes gleaned from CYFTAY’s Early Care Education (ECE) and Teen Pregnancy and Parenting Program (TAPP). They credit the programs for creating opportunities and resources that empowered them to excel and flourish academically. And for two of these women, their success has paved the way for their children to work towards and envision a future of collegiate success.
Success through Lifelong Learning
Early education is imperative for creating a path to positive results later in life. College student Victoria Cooks echoes this sentiment as she fondly remembers her class at Felton Institute’s Early Developmental Center. At five years old, she recalls, “I was in my own little bubble, and I was completely happy.” ECE provides individualized learning opportunities to support the abilities and skills of children, aged from birth through 5 years old. The program allows children and their families to reach their full potential for success as lifelong learners, qualities that Ms. Cooks embodied as she begins her third year in college.
A junior at San Francisco State, Ms. Cooks is majoring in anthropology. Her admission to college is one of the proudest moments of her life, she says. And she has no plans of ending her college endeavors once she gets her degree. Ms. Cooks wants to get her graduate degree “as soon as I can,” she notes enthusiastically. Her drive for learning is a common thread in the stories of students who have benefited from Felton’s cradle-to-college pipeline.
As CYFTAY demonstrates, providing resources for a child’s development can set them on track for educational success. Dr. Quiróz explains, “Our approach has a focus not on equality, where everyone receives the same, but equity to ensure all children have what they need to be successful.”
The road to successful outcomes starts at a young age. Children’s early experiences have a profound effect on brain development and provide a roadmap for a child’s development into adulthood. Nurturing and stimulating relationships with parents and caregivers during the first five years of life builds healthy brain architecture and provides a foundation for life-long healthy development. Programs like Felton’s ECE, help prepare children for school and life success and are credited with fostering a cradle-to-college pipeline, as Ms. Cooks story highlights. Children who go through the programs have more advanced social skills, language and pre-math skills, warmer relationships with their teachers, fewer behavioral challenges, and an easier adjustment to kindergarten and beyond.
These accomplishments create positive opportunities for children to develop the skills and love of learning that will follow them to the college classroom and inspire future generations. “Fostering a cradle-to-college vision is important,” Dr. Quiróz emphasizes, “because it ensures that via collective action and a two-generation approach, all children served at Felton have a strong foundation at the early stages of their development in order to set all children on a path of choice and opportunity.” And this path inspires the children of Felton graduates.
Learning and Growing
The cradle-to-college pipeline strengthens families and allows for intergenerational collegiate success. Mayra Espinoza, currently a biology major (with a minor in child development) at San Francisco State University and ECE fellow, is a graduate of Felton’s Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program (TAPP). TAPP provides comprehensive case management to help ensure that expectant and parenting families have access to health, social services, and education. After Ms. Espinoza became pregnant at fourteen, she credits the program for “giving me the resources I needed to finish high school and go to college.” Inspired by her experience, she enrolled her son into Early Care Education.
Three-year-old Jacob has benefited greatly from his time in ECE. “My son has been able to learn letters and numbers and all the things that are going to prepare him for school,” Ms. Espinoza says proudly. She emphasis the importance of programs like ECE, that enable children “to learn and keep growing.” She sees the benefit in future generations participating in the program, “I hope when my son grows up” she explains, “his kids will go here, too.” Ms. Espinoza’s success is shared by other CYFTAY graduates as they too enroll their children who benefit from Felton’s programs.
Alejandra Cuellar, a fellow graduate of TAPP, credits the program for enabling her to not only finish high school but to attend college and become a medical assistant, “It let me grow,” she recalls fondly. This growth has expanded into intergenerational accomplishments as she prepares for her youngest child to flourish academically.
Ms. Cuellar’s journey from TAPP graduate to college graduate, has led her to yet another educational milestone, this time with her youngest son, Jayden. The five-year-old has been enrolled in ECE since he was two months old. Over nearly five years, Ms. Cuellar credits Jayden’s teachers with teaching him how to sing, how to walk, and how to write letters and his name. “The teachers there are great,” she emphasizes. These prerequisite learning firsts for a child, helped prepare Jayden for graduating preschool and entering kindergarten.
Jayden, wearing a cap and gown as his mother watched proudly from the audience, graduated from Felton’s ECE 12th Annual Preschool Graduation on August 5, 2022. Held at San Francisco State University, it’s a symbolic gesture tying in the cradle-to-college pipeline.
Dr. Quiróz explains, “We want families to visualize their children in this setting so that this can be their reality.” She adds, “It’s never too early to start talking to young children about college. It’s a natural part of the education process that can help families set this as an expectation for their children after high school.” She explains, “At Felton, our goal is to make this concept the norm and not the exception.”
Ms. Cuellar takes this sentiment to heart. “This isn’t going to be his only graduation.” She continues beaming, “This is the first graduation of his life.”
Ms. Cuellar, Ms. Espinoza, and Ms. Cooks show the resounding success of Felton Institute’s support and collaborative approach of supporting and fostering a cradle-to-college pipeline and the positive impact it has on future generations. Dr. Quiróz says of the programs, “I am proud of the lives we have transformed.” Adding, “The families and our educators play a pivotal role in ensuring all children are socially, emotionally, and academically ready for school, college, and beyond.”
If you’d like to learn more about our Early Care and Education (ECE) Programs you can visit our program page. You can also learn more about about our Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program (TAPP) on the TAPP Program Page.
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult, and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties. Felton’s social services and programs utilize the latest scientific research, combining cultural sensitivity, deep respect for client and staff, and a commitment to social justice.
Felton is the oldest non-sectarian and nonprofit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. For over a century, Felton Institute has been at the forefront of social service innovation, pioneering new approaches to meet underserved populations’ emerging needs. At the heart of our work is the belief that individuals and families in crisis must have access to services and resources to help them build on their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org