SFUSD celebrates 70 years of early education

By Lyanne Melendez | ABC Ch. 7 

San Francisco has always been recognized as a progressive city and in 1943, during World War II, the school district established four daycare centers. That was 20 years before the federal "Head Start" program got under way and on Friday they celebrated its 70th anniversary. 

The school board has been instrumental in keeping the program going since 1943. The men went to war and the women had to go to work. Who was going to take care of the kids? Back then, there were only four of these centers. Now, there are 43.

The Tule Elk Child Development center in San Francisco was originally called the Yerba Buena Children's Center, one of four founded in 1943. The nation was in the midst of World War II. The program supported low-income families, primarily women entering the workforce in large numbers for the first time, sometimes referred to as the "Rosie the Riveter moms. "

"For them to go to work, they needed to have child care. So this is actually the beginning of this formalized federal child care program called the Lanham Act," SFUSD Early Education Director Carla Bryant said. Pictures archived by the San Francisco Public Library show that besides a few good meals, the Ed centers provided health care for toddlers and preschoolers, and cots for the ever-important nap. The library also has a rare syllabus written in 1953 for student observers of child care centers.

Over the years, as more homes had both parents joining the work force, the need for these centers increased. The district now has 43 of these sites. The cost to attend is based on a family's income. The district still subsidizes this program. While other school districts nationwide have cut back, San Francisco Unified has managed to hold on to them. "We have our great partners, from funders, private and public," Bryant said.

The district says back then and now, the focus has always been on education and preparing kids for kindergarten, setting the foundation for a life of learning. "If we set the foundation now that school is important and we touch on all the components of a great education, hopefully that will set the stage for them to enjoy learning and have a love of learning and be successful even in college," said E'leva Gibson at the Tule Elk Child Development Center.

With that said, San Francisco Unified has typically posted high test scores among all the urban districts in the state. The district planned a celebration at Far East Restaurant in Chinatown Friday evening to mark 70 years of early education.