English language learners participating in the Napa Valley Early Learning Initiative (NVELI) pilot program proved to be three times more ready to enter kindergarten than English learning pre-school children in Napa County who did not participate. The pilot program is funded by the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV).

This is the impressive statistic capping the first four years of the NVELI, as reported by the independent research firm of Applied Survey Research.

How did NVELI get its start?

After two years of fact finding and research, the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) determined that helping close the educational achievement gap between English learners and English-fluent children was one of the greatest education needs in Napa County.

“Research supports that every public dollar spent on high-quality early learning results in future savings on education, crime reduction and social services,” said Becky Peterson, NVV’s director of member and community relations “We were confident that an initiative focused on early childhood education could help us achieve our goal of investing deeply to create a positive, long-term and forward-thinking impact on our community.”

Partnering with early childhood experts at First 5 Napa County, the NVV helped implement the pilot program in four Napa County schools to address the school readiness gap. To date, the NVV has granted $5 million of its Auction Napa Valley funds toward the research, creation, staffing and implementation of the NVELI pilot programs. As of last year, more than 1,500 students and their families have been engaged with programs and services provided through NVELI.

The story of a boy named Miguel is one small example of the NVELI’s success. Miguel had been a shy four-year old, with no previous exposure to preschool. His reading and language skills needed improvement.

Enter the Napa Valley Early Learning Initiative.

Miguel’s mother, Maria, heard about the First Step Kinder Academy at one of the NVELI’s pilot schools. First Step is a four-week summer program created for kids with no access to preschool. First Step helped Miguel get ready for kindergarten in numerous ways, including learning how to interact with other children and by improving his reading level. By the time kindergarten came, he was fully ready, based on testing that gauged his cognitive skills and social-emotional abilities.

Program manager Michelle Laymon coordinates the inter-connected activities of teachers, facilitators, school administrators and education researchers involved in NVELI. “Think of the long-term impacts of a child wanting to pick up a book, pay attention to a teacher and work with other children to finish a project. Or of a parent visiting a library with their child, becoming a school volunteer and lighting up with confidence at being able to help their child succeed,” said Laymon. “It’s powerful.”

It’s not only individual children who have been positively impacted by the pilot initiative. Families and communities in Napa County will also benefit for generations to come from NVELI programs.

Consider Maria, Miguel’s mom. While Miguel attended First Steps, Maria took advantage of an NVELI program for herself: Parent University. Maria took 30 different classes, from English language to parenting skills. The positive learning experience motivated Maria to get her GED. She is now studying childhood development at Napa Valley College with the goal of becoming a bilingual preschool teacher—something that Napa County desperately needs.

“If I can prepare myself,” said Maria with pride, “I can prepare my son and other kids.”

Now that the pilot program is complete, the NVV is working with a leadership team to find and engage experts in childhood education to oversee, expand and make permanent the best practices developed through NVELI.

Learn more about the Napa Valley Early Learning Initiative.