Engaged Neighborhood Spotlight: Santa Ana Early Learning Initiative

Sep 20, 2023 | Engaged Neighborhood Spotlight, News & Announcements

The Santa Ana Early Learning Initiative (SAELI) is the largest and longest-running Engaged Neighborhood.

The group formed after First 5 OC put out a call for projects to promote early childhood that First 5 could support by providing initial seed money. Armed with data from the Early Development Index (EDI) that showed a gap in key outcomes for young children, SAELI applied for funds to get the organization started.

Eight years later, this collaborative of residents, resource providers, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations is a robust champion for young children and families in Santa Ana. SAELI engages more than 250 families annually and has 30 partner organizations. First 5 OC continues to provide funding for SAELI’s backbone organizational structure, and SAELI has raised $100,000 in addition to First 5 OC’s funding.

SAELI and First 5 OC share a Theory of Change that focuses on empowering families and access to resources. SAELI is empowering families to enhance early literacy and math skills in their young children before they enter kindergarten, based on the children’s unique needs. SAELI believes in the importance of supporting the family/caretaker alongside the child. They connect families to resources through a coordinated effort among their collaborative members.

Engaged Neighborhoods in Action

  • SAELI holds monthly parent trainings focused on leadership, child development and foundational math and literacy skills. EDI data shows slow and steady improvement since 2015 in most areas (see graph below).
  • However, the EDI measures of literacy and cognitive development declined in 2022 across the county, including Santa Ana – likely due in part to the pandemic. As a result, SAELI’s work continues to be vital, especially in the area of language and cognitive development, as they help children catch up and surpass pre-pandemic levels.

Santa Ana Early Development Index Growth

  • SAELI also holds monthly Steering Committee meetings, a bi-annual General Assembly, and quarterly Advisory Council meetings where partner agencies, along with families discuss what families need and how best to get it to families.
  • SAELI partners with the Santa Ana Unified School District, which provides in-kind support such as busing families to in-person meetings, food, and child care so families can attend their family education events.
  • Efforts led by resident leaders have resulted in a recent housing ordinance passed in the City of Santa Ana, the first city in Orange County to pass a housing ordinance. Families educated through the SAELI network were instrumental in getting the ordinance passed.

Looking Ahead

Each of the four Engaged Neighborhoods recently brainstormed dreams and developed goals for the next three years with First 5 Orange County.

SAELI’s Dreams

  • Create a city where young children come first, by educating their community about the importance of Early Child Development and building community will
  • All parents with children ages birth to 5 years old understand children’s developmental stages
  • Every kindergartener has a preschool experience
  • All families have access to all resources needed to thrive

Over the next fiscal year, SAELI plans to take steps to reach these goals by co-creating a common message for stakeholders in Santa Ana to embrace the “children first” focus, aligning services with partner agencies so that child development activities are accessible to families throughout the city, and continuing to empower families through workshops.

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