Addressing Systemic Barriers For Early Learners - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Addressing Systemic Barriers For Early Learners

Two side by side photos of a young Black girl smiling and learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families receive high-quality remote instruction through Oakland REACH’s Citywide Virtual Hub. Photo courtesy of Oakland REACH.

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s goal is to ensure that Oakland’s youngest learners have equitable access to quality early education and opportunities for future success. To achieve this goal, we are expanding our education work to address systemic barriers to learning for our most vulnerable children.

Last fall, we shared that the Foundation transitioned its anchoring literacy program, SEEDS of Learning from incubating within the Foundation to its new home, CARES for Learning. This shift creates opportunities for us to go further to disrupt injustices in early childhood education. It also opens up new possibilities for us to support the whole child and their learning environment, starting with early childhood literacy.

At the heart of our approach are four equity levers that, when operating together in a learning ecosystem, can lead to improved outcomes for children. We will leverage these high-yielding, equity-focused levers, because we believe they can create social and educational change and impact over time.

Our Four Equity Levers

1. Teaching And Learning

A Men of Color Teaching Fellow holding up a copy of "Bear Snores On" to read aloud to Oakland students.
Amin Robinson, Men of Color Early Education Teaching Fellow, helps young Oakland students gain key skills during the pandemic.

When students have access to core curriculum and high-quality instruction from pre-school through 12th grade, they are better prepared for the globally competitive workforce. It’s also important to have a teacher pipeline flush with qualified educators of color that resemble the diversity of students. Research shows positive effects on children’s development when teachers mirror their racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Building on the success of the SEEDS of Learning model to train community members to be highly skilled classroom tutors, the Rainin Foundation funded the Oakland Unified School District’s Office of Equity and Office of Early Childhood to begin the Men of Color Early Education Teaching Fellows pilot program. The pilot started at the beginning of 2020-21 school year. It provides professional development, life skills, mentors, educational opportunities, and other wrap-around supports for men of color to enter the field of teaching and help them succeed in their roles and beyond.

2. Support For Families And Communities

If we want to change the trajectory of the life of a child, the adults in that child’s life have to be part of that change. To reinforce a culture of learning at home and at school, parents and caregivers need to be recognized and supported as leaders in their children’s education. We also see friends, family and neighbors as an extension of the school’s network.

Our partners at High Expectations and Oakland REACH are providing parents and caregivers with virtual learning opportunities, easy-to-use tools and high-interest games to help motivate their child’s reading at home. These supports have been well received as parents navigate the uncertainties and demands of distance learning during the pandemic.

3. Policy Advocacy

Engaging in local, state and federal policy work will help us break down the academic, social, and economic barriers that stand in the way of early literacy skill development in Oakland. This includes exploring alternative, trauma-informed discipline practices and advocating for more local and state resources to advance equity and empower parents and families. We’ll share more about this work later this year.

“Leveraging Oakland’s community networks and social justice partnerships will help us strengthen the learning ecosystem for every child.”

4. Strategic Networks

Oakland has a strong support system of community-based organizations working in literacy. Leveraging these community networks and social justice partnerships will help us strengthen the learning ecosystem for every child. This includes hosting trainings to encourage parent engagement and leadership with student learning. We’ll also focus on increasing student access to literacy at home and promoting democratic engagement to give those involved agency and voice.

To improve how we work and be more responsive, the Foundation formed a Community Strategy Council for Educational Equity and Excellence. This group is comprised of Oakland teachers, school leaders, administrators, students and parents and literacy leaders. By trusting their wisdom, we better understand the systems and policies that impact early learners and are coming up with right-fit solutions.

“By trusting the wisdom of our community, we better understand the systems and policies that impact early learners and are coming up with right-fit solutions.”

Continuing To Collaborate

No one organization can tackle inequities in education alone. We will continue to work together with other funders to scale our investments, learn and take risks.

Our vision is to strengthen supports within learning ecosystems and that help produce equitable results for Oakland students in the next three to five years. We believe our investments in academic, social emotional, teacher, parent and community resources, along with our advocacy for system change, will help us get there. The solutions that are surfacing through our collaborations are promising. We’re excited to continue to share what we’re learning along the way.