South San Francisco’s Learning Wheels Receives First 5 San Mateo County’s Spotlight on Excellence Award

South San Francisco, CA   December 20, 2018  SSF Press Release

South San Francisco Library representatives were awarded First 5 San Mateo County’s Spotlight on Excellence Award, which is given to agencies for exceptional contributions made to San Mateo County children up through age 5 and their families.


Pat Jarvis, Valerie Sommer, Karla Molina Bourdon

The award-winning Learning Wheels, which is South San Francisco’s library bookmobile, has provided family literacy programs to low-income North San Mateo County families since 2001, and serves Colma, Daly City, San Bruno, and South San Francisco. “Since we began, Learning Wheels has distributed more than 100,000 free, high-quality, linguistically and culturally-appropriate children’s books,” said Valerie Sommer, library director, South San Francisco.


In addition to free books to build home libraries, Learning Wheels, which primarily serves families with 0 to 5 year old children, provides story times; science, nutrition, and fitness workshops; and parenting information. Participants also gain access to other resources including one-on-one tutoring for English-speaking adults, financial coaching and free tax preparation. “On average, nearly 300 families participate in Learning Wheels to gain access to all these wonderful resources,” added Sommer.


Learning Wheels was recognized by First 5 San Mateo County for its contributions in providing families with information on the important benefits quality early learning has on brain development and future school success. “These contributions are some of the shining examples that impact many children and families in San Mateo County, especially the low-income families in North San Mateo County,” said Kitty Lopez, Executive Director, First 5 San Mateo County. “The Learning Wheels family literacy programming models high quality early learning best practices for parents and caregivers, which embodies the Core Values and Guiding Principles that are the foundation for First 5 San Mateo County’s investments,” added Lopez.

“I’m so proud of our library staff and the work they do on a daily basis to provide access to learning for all children, regardless of economic or social status,” said South San Francisco Mayor Karyl Matsumoto.


Breaking the cycle of illiteracy in low-income families

The National Center for Education estimates 15 percent of County adults lack literacy skills needed for productive employment. Illiteracy often is passed from generation to generation when parents are unable to read to their children or help with homework. “In San Mateo County, 65 percent of minority children cannot read proficiently by third grade, which is generally a milestone for future academic success,” says Sommer. “Unfortunately, poor literacy skills perpetuate poverty and inequality.”


Learning Wheels partners with the San Mateo County Health Department, Head Start, State Preschools, homeless shelters, UC Cooperative Nutrition, and school districts in order to provide services to the families it serves.


For more information on Learning Wheels, please contact Pat Jarvis, Literacy Services Coordinator for Family Programs at



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