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Pasadena is an 'Early Learning City.' What happens now?

Lila Guirguis heads the City of Pasadena's new Office of the Young Child.
Priska Neely
Lila Guirguis heads the City of Pasadena's new Office of the Young Child.

Attention, Pasadena residents: You now live in an "Early Learning City."

The city is making its renewed commitment to the youngest residents official with a launch event Saturday, followed by a coordinated effort to improve outcomes for young children in the next eight years. 

Pasadena is one of more than a dozen cities around the country that have joined a movement called Early Learning Nation 2025, which aims to improve outcomes for the so-called "Generation Alpha" – kids born between 2010 and 2025.

Mayors around the nation adopted a resolution declaring the decade of 2015 to 2025 as an era of community focus on preparing the generation to "resolve issues, assume leadership positions, while generating innovative and long-term solutions for previously intractable and seemingly unsolvable challenges."

The places that have signed on also agree to convene working groups, create data systems to capture the needs of young children and activate plans to improve outcomes.

In Pasadena, this coincided with updating a more-than-20-year-old early development policy.

Part of the approach was establishing a new Office of the Young Child and hiring a city-wide early childhood development coordinator to helm the office. 

"In 2025, I really hope that parents around the city have a solid understanding that early learning happens before birth," said Lila Guirguis, who took the helm of the new office last year.

In that role, she’s working to coordinate early childhood efforts in different government agencies and to develop early childhood hubs at libraries and businesses. She aims to change the feel of the city on a visible level, with signs in grocery stores and on bus stops reinforcing the importance of early leaning and more kid-friendly spaces in restaurants and stores.

She's also working to address gaps in child care and early education that can affect school performance. Only 40 percent of third graders in Pasadena Unified are reading at grade level.

“For a city with so many resources – the Art Center and [Pasadena Community College], [Jet Propulsion Lab] and CalTech – all of these wonderful colleges and universities – we should be doing better.”

Hartford, Conn., was one of the first cities to adopt the Early Learning City resolution in 2014. In the years since, the city has ramped up their early childhood efforts, creating a pre-K to grade 3 alignment task force, forming a family day care network and are preparing to launch a family literacy campaign across the city. 

"I think before we were doing a lot of good work, but it was somewhat silo-ed," said Kim Oliver, Director of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation for the City of Hartford.

Pasadena's launch event,  to be held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Brookside Park, will feature dozens of stations, with storytelling and developmental screenings for kids. Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, Congresswoman Judy Chu and Senator Anthony Portantino are scheduled to speak. Residents will also be able to draw on an art wall to illustrate changes they’d like to see.  

To the young children living in Pasadena, Guirguis has this message: "The city that you live in, all of us really care about you and we want to make this the best place every that you could possibly grow up in."