Guest Commentary: Mapping the Future of Yolo Youth – A Post-Pandemic Response 

By Jim Provenza, Lucas Frerichs, Garth Lewis and Jesse Salinas

These past weeks have been a time of joy in Yolo County. A parade of high school seniors crossed stages to receive their diplomas. Children of all ages completed an unprecedented year of virtual and masked in-person schooling, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These celebrations reflect a significant achievement in our communities, yet there are troubling signs that many of our young people and their families are struggling.

Along with the celebrations, we need a long-range plan to ensure a better future for Yolo County. This means confronting the issues of poverty and physical and mental health–especially among our youngest friends and neighbors.

According to the Yolo County Office of Education, our county is home to just under 30,000 students in K-12 schools and a little more than 13,600 children ages 0-5. Of these:

  • Approximately 15% of all children 0-17 live in poverty.
  • Local Black children face a 28% poverty rate.
  • Latino children endure a 20% poverty rate.

Poverty also creates toxic stress in babies in utero, and prenatal care is an essential preventative measure. According to First 5 of Yolo County, during the pandemic:

  • Only 47% of pregnant women on Medi-Cal in Yolo received on-time prenatal care. Compare that to 2018, when 84% of mothers on Medi-Cal received on-time prenatal care.
  • Pediatric well-child visits dropped by an estimated 24% from pre-pandemic baselines. ● Childhood vaccinations dropped by more than 40% since the start of the pandemic.

How do we ensure our children and families move from surviving to thriving? How do we meet this post-pandemic moment and create structural change? How do we tap the potential of the region and make it a place of innovation where young people thrive and families see our county as a place to work, live, and succeed?

These are the questions (many) elected officials throughout Yolo County are asking. The pandemic has demonstrated that we have a collective responsibility to our communities that can only be met by acknowledging our joint responsibility to leverage the federal, state, and local opportunities before us.

Although we have had successful county collaborative efforts in the past, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other anticipated one-time funding provide a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in communities and build up our public health and economic infrastructure.

And the investment that will have the biggest long-term impact for our society is an investment in our children, youth and families.

We are observing the greatest COVID-related impacts in areas of mental health and well-being. Even prior to the pandemic, high school students attending Yolo County’s Youth Empowerment Summit shared stories about their mental health. Their stories were supported by public health statistics indicating that:

  • In 2018, 22% of youth accessing Medi-Cal mental health services in Yolo County did so at a crisis level, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.
  • A 2020 California Healthy Kids Survey found that 28% of Yolo County 11th graders were harassed or bullied in the previous year.
  • Nearly 36% experienced chronic sadness/hopelessness while at school. The pandemic exacerbated this issue.

We need to plan, with urgency, a new focus on the physical AND mental health of our communities by developing an innovative, practical and effective cradle-to-career blueprint for every one of our young people.

To make this a reality, we must make a commitment to one another and our community to plan together, to dream together, to rebuild and re-engage together.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategic plan for children, youth and families throughout the county. Yolo County is one interconnected community and we understand that when one community thrives, we all thrive together.

We call on our elected colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, city councils, school boards, and Yolo County Office of Education to join us in this effort as we work collaboratively with our leaders in youth advocacy, higher education, nonprofit and private sectors to develop a roadmap for countywide success. The blueprint would:

  • promote balanced economic development
  • provide parents viable opportunities to earn a living wage
  • ensure our children live healthy lives, and
  • create positive opportunities for our youth to enjoy increased civic engagement, leadership development, and a healthy environment to work, live, and play in Yolo County.

This plan should be transformative and leverage resources across the entire county and all sectors in such a way that prioritizes children, youth and families. It is only by working in a more intentional and collaborative way that these resources will have a long-term, multi-generational impact on our community.

In July, the county will begin convening virtual and in-person community workshops. To learn more go to Join us and help support our effort in this important journey as we map out the future of our county through a commitment to collaboration the Yolo Way!

Co-authors: Jim Provenza, Chair Yolo County Board of Supervisors and First 5; Gary Sandy, Yolo County Board of Supervisor; Jesse Salinas, Yolo County Assessor, Clerk-Recorder, Elections; Garth Lewis, Yolo County Superintendent; Tico Zendejas, Yolo County Board of Education; Gloria Partida, Mayor of Davis; Lucas Frerichs, Vice Mayor of Davis; Tom Stallard, Major of Woodland, Mayra Vega, Woodland Mayor Pro Tempore; Martha Guerrero, Mayor of West Sacramento; Quirina Orozco, West Sacramento City Councilmember;  Wade Cowan, Mayor of Winters; Jesse Loren, Winters City Councilmember; Tom Adams, Davis Joint Unified School District Trustee; Vigdis Asmundson, Davis Joint Unified School District Trustee;  Coby Pizzotti, President Washington Unified School District; Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, Vice President Washington Unified School District; Jake Whitaker, President Woodland Unified School District; Bibiana Garcia, Woodland Unified School District Trustee; Jesse Ortiz, Yuba Community College District Board – Trustee Area 5; Kelly Willkerson, Los Rios Community College District Board – Area 4.



About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Todd Edelman

    Great collaboration!

    Some specific ideas:

    1)  Housing for many economically-challenged Yolo County citizens – rented apartments and homes – is both energy-inefficient – and for partly the same reason – not resilient during both wildfire fallout events (smoke and ash), nor viral outbreaks. Rescue funds should be used for a concrete program: First, an inventory of all rental housing built before the last ten or twenty years or so – I am not an expert on building standard efficiency and safety timelines or thresholds – with Rescue funds then used to remedy the likely considerable deficits as close as possible to modern standards. Rescue funds could be used  add relatively inexpensive equipment or services that are not required by law but which increase both comfort and safety such as HEPA air cleaners and vacuums and duct cleaning, removal of carpets, etc. There should be an permanently-established inspection program for every apartment that is vacated.  The provision of HVAC upgrade and air cleaners in local primary and secondary schools is a no-brainer template for what should happen in the homes of the children that attend these schools.

    2) Mobility choices are extremely important for all citizens, and many economically-challenged don’t have access to motor vehicles, are far from public transportation with frequent service, or don’t have bicycles that can replace trips by motor vehicle.

    DJUSD has no school bus program to complement its school-choice /non-geographical catchment program. As a result, children who don’t walk or ride a bike to school and are too young to ride the limited Unitrans services that support the primary/secondary school-commute have to be driven to school… often by families without good or any access to an automobile. The County should use Rescue funds to replace existing Diesel or CNG buses used by school districts county-wide with electric buses, and work with DJUSD to acquire new electric school buses, provide for their re-charging and provide extra training to current Unitrans bus drivers so they can legally do the part-time job of driving these new buses. A county-wide order would be economically-advantageous for economy of scale reasons.  There is already electric bus implementation happening in the County and this could simply build on that.

    The State is already considering new programs to assist economically-challenged families to acquire expensive electric-assist bicycles: Yolo County should consider using the same template and use Rescue funds to e.g. double the program locally and exceed the proposed subsidy levels, or facilitate the loans which still might be needed to acquire the bikes, or equipment to securely store the bikes overnight – most older apartments don’t have high-quality bicycle-parking – and at mobility hubs.

    Bike share in its limited – and currently suspended – roll out in the County – Davis, UC Davis and West Sac – is restricted to persons 18 and over. As older children in economically-challenged families have fewer mobility options than average, and brown and black families are disproportionately lower-income, this restriction is arguably racist. The County should require SACOG and other parties to remove this requirement so that older children and adults who are able to ride a bike independently should be able to use bike share.  But better would be if Rescue funds were used to create bike share with a similar business model to Yolobus (subsidy, regulated but with an outside supplier) or run by the County, possibly in collaboration with Unitrans, and to use in all County communities, even in the rural context, with electric bikes available to anyone able to ride them, and suited to all geographic and use-cases (e.g. shopping for a large family – in a rural setting a subsidized e-cargo bike is a better match.)

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