This article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Erikson on Children under the headline “Investing in young children.” More from this issue »

Last fall, the Stranahan Foundation awarded Erikson’s New Schools Project a $150,000 grant.

Image: Young children in the classroom

The grant will support partnerships with the teachers and administration of nine Chicago Public Schools, including two new partner schools in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
About Erikson’s work in Austin »

It will also help support the New Schools Project’s work to create a citywide community of teachers dedicated to a high-quality and coordinated pre-kindergarten through third-grade education.

Q&A with the CEO

We talked with Pam Howell-Beach, CEO, Stranahan Foundation, about the grant.

The Stranahan Foundation, established in 1944 by brothers Frank D. and Robert A. Stranahan, was originally housed under the auspices of the family business, Champion Spark Plug. The business was sold in the late 1980s, but the foundation continues to be based in Toledo, Ohio.

Why does the Stranahan Foundation support early childhood initiatives?

Howell-Beach: The foundation launched its Early Childhood Initiative in 2011, as trustees felt a growing excitement around the opportunities to improve learning outcomes for young children and the potentially life-changing implications for disadvantaged populations.

We were convinced by the research that the quality of teaching and adult/child interactions are central to impacting children’s learning and development. We also saw that aligning pre-kindergarten through third-grade learning experiences is a critical strategy to sustain early learning gains.

What was the most notable thing you learned about early childhood?

Howell-Beach: Through conversations with early childhood experts, we grew to appreciate the complexities and challenges of this work. Teachers not only need a deep knowledge base in early childhood development, but also practical skills and strategies for translating that knowledge into effective classroom practice, often with culturally, ethnically, and developmentally diverse youngsters.

The foundation trustees decided to invest in programs that help teachers meet these challenges and that support and nurture effective teaching. Our ultimate goal: powerful, high-quality early learning experiences that lead to improved educational and life outcomes for kids.

How did you learn about Erikson?

Howell-Beach: We contacted about 160 early childhood funders and experts from around the country, seeking their suggestions regarding promising initiatives. Several mentioned Erikson as a highly respected leader in the field, and the New Schools Project was specifically suggested as a program that might fit with our priorities.

Erikson was ultimately one of 17 organizations invited to participate in the Stranahan Foundation’s Early Childhood Request for Proposal process last summer and among the seven candidates that ultimately rose to the top.

The foundation is proud to include the New Schools Project and the
pre-kindergarten to third-grade approach in its portfolio of early childhood investments.

Why do you support the New Schools Project?

Howell-Beach: Erikson faculty and staff possess deep expertise and knowledge. They also radiate a commitment to and passion for their work that is truly extraordinary and contagious. The New Schools Project’s classroom teachers we met during our site visit also exuded that excitement and dedication. Their enthusiasm for how the project has helped create a culture of collaboration within their schools and improve their teaching — coupled with their insights into how kids are impacted — helped convince our trustees to support the program.

As our early childhood consultant Sara Mead noted, the New Schools Project is an exceptionally robust effort that engages with schools at deep curricular and instructional levels. The project also establishes professional learning communities among teachers and administrators and creates a seamless, high-quality education for children.

Our hope is that, through these efforts, each child is continually motivated and excited about learning and carries that with them throughout their lifetime.

The New Schools Project partners with principals and teachers
in Chicago Public Schools to establish effective learning environments for children in pre-kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.

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