Four California county superintendents, including San Bernardino County Superintendent Ted Alejandre, spoke during a one-hour webinar Tuesday morning, Oct. 26, about issues affecting education such as early childhood literacy and COVID-19.

The other three superintendents included Krystal Lomanto, superintendent of San Benito County schools; Barbara Nemko, superintendent of Napa County schools, and Michael West, superintendent of Colusa County schools.

Their combined total of years in education is close to 150 years. Lomanto has been a superintendent for seven years, Nemko for 25; West for eight years, and Alejandre for seven years.

Nemko talked about early childhood literacy and the two traits that distinguish children who achieve early success. One is having a rich vocabulary and the other is the ability to talk with others.

Nemko said that parents need to have long conversations with their babies from the time they are born.

There can be a difference of 30 million words between affluent children and those from low-income families, Nemko said.

Parent involvement is critical, Nemko said. If the parent has problems reading, then that can create a void in parents teaching their children skills.

West oversees Colusa County, a rural area where 60 percent of the children enrolled in school are Hispanic.

The population is a little more than 221,000 residents.

West said Colusa county schools received a $2.3 million grant for books and that amounted to 14.3 books per student. They also were able to purchase more than 1,100 iPads.

His school districts use social media to engage students and parents in literacy campaigns. Social media can become a challenge for the educators.

COVID-19 has created more opportunities for children to bond with parents and books.

Alejandre talked about San Bernardino County’s “Vision to Read.”

He said that students who have learned to read by third grade, will head for achievement.

Nemko said that the school districts partner with Petsmart, First 5, Children’s Fund and the county schools.

Napa has 33 school districts and 406,000 students. San Benito has 11 school districts and 11,429 students. The number of Latino students is 77 percent, she said.

Gregory A. Spencer, of Footsteps2Brilliance, said he flunked kindergarten twice and became a gang leader at age 9. He also could not read.

West said the pandemic really hit the schools hard. “The biggest challenge was a lot of our teachers were terrified of doing distance learning,” he said.

Other teachers were terrified of using computers.

Nemko said that Footsteps is on I-pads so that parents can use it while in pediatric waiting rooms. Health care leaders also say that it is important to have these conversations.

West said that the whole family needs to be involved.

”If kids are excited about it, that sells the program,” West said.

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