Kids in Oakland are learning and loving it. Photo courtesy: Book Trust

A Recipe for Reading

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation is dedicated to unlocking the potential of Oakland’s youngest learners. Our goal is to ensure that every child is kindergarten-ready and reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Investing in the adults who love and teach children is the first step. By providing key ingredients—skilled and loving adult support, and literacy-rich experiences steeped in proven learning strategies—we are helping children to succeed.

Building on Success with New Leadership

The 2017-2018 school year began for us with an exciting leadership transition. After four fruitful years as Director of Education Strategy & Ventures, Susan True handed over the reins to Carla Bryant. Susan spearheaded our pilot of SEEDS of Learning, placing this promising literacy model at the heart of our school partnerships. She and her team also mobilized resources for additional community-based strategies that enhance early childhood well-being and learning.

Carla’s career reflects a similar commitment to the success of young children through comprehensive early learning programs. Her experience includes leadership roles in San Francisco and creating system-level solutions in Seattle to align early learning with K-12 education.

Their transition sets the stage for building on grantee successes and what we’ve learned so far, and advancing to the next stage of our education strategy. We will prioritize quality data and the power of partnerships to understand and address systemic obstacles to achieving long-term outcomes. The Education team will continue to scale what works and identify strategies that support reading success through third grade.

“We are committed to making sure all Oakland children, regardless of where they live, receive the skills to be successful in school and in life.”

Carla Bryant, Director, Education Strategy & Ventures

Nancy Lee embraces the SEEDS of Learning program in her transitional kindergarten class at Allendale Elementary. Photo credit: Stephanie Secrest

A Learning Partnership

The Rainin Foundation targets its investments in both schools and community settings. Most significant is our work with the Oakland Early Learning Literacy cohort, which grew to 16 schools in 2017. The schools focus intensively on boosting student outcomes by building a continuum of learning from transitional kindergarten through first grade. Our funding includes a robust professional development program to strengthen instructional leadership and improve curriculum, along with classroom tutors and coaching support for teachers. These schools use regular assessments to monitor and apply strategies that help children progress.

Parents in Oakland are helping build life long readers. Photo courtesy: Reach Out and Read

Ready to Read

Three in five Oakland students enter kindergarten without the early literacy skills they need to succeed, so the need for a strong, comprehensive strategy is clear.

The Rainin Foundation’s investment in SEEDS of Learning began in 2014 and now extends to numerous school partners in Oakland. SEEDS is a nationally recognized relationship-based professional development program that supports teachers in building social, emotional, language and literacy skills in young children. By monitoring student progress, this program also helps teachers identify and target skills where children need extra support. SEEDS expanded to include preschool teachers at nearly every City of Oakland Head Start classroom. In 2017, additional investments continued to benefit 14 independent charter schools and 26 district schools. This eight-month professional development program for preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten teachers included materials, classroom tutor resources and ongoing coaching. SEEDS programming overall grew 25% last year, from 72 classrooms in 2016-2017 school year to 92 in the 2017-2018 school year.

“It’s vital to close the achievement gap as early as possible. The Rainin Foundation’s partnership has helped give OUSD the opportunity to intensively focus on the beginning of children’s education and improve learning opportunities for our students and their teachers.”

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Oakland Unified School District Superintendent

Learning is a Two-Way Street

We continued to see positive results for preschool and transitional kindergarten students during the fourth year of our SEEDS programming. In reviewing student data, however, we found that these early literacy gains may not hold steady into third grade. We saw this first-hand with one of our school partners. But their amazing team of educators immediately mobilized around collaborative problem-solving to address a variety of obstacles to longer-term success. This is how data gathering and strong grantee partnerships contribute to success—they energize opportunities for collaborative learning and growth.


Number of classrooms where SEEDS of Learning teachers helped children develop the key skills to succeed in school in 2016-2017 school year

Successfully reading by third grade is one of the most important predictors of high school graduation and life success


Amount invested by the Rainin Foundation in 2017 to improve literacy among Oakland’s children

“All students in my class love ordering books. They excitedly wait for the day their books come. They beg for extra reading time…I anticipate many of my students will become lifelong readers thanks to the Book Trust program.”

New Highland Academy Teacher

Children are falling in love with reading through the Book Trust program. Photo courtesy: Book Trust

Strengthening Community Resources

In 2017, we invested $1.4 million through responsive grantmaking to community-based organizations that are helping families prepare children, birth to age 8, for success. Grantee partners provide a bountiful array of resources to enhance children’s well-being and reading success. Summer and after-school programs like Springboard Collaborative equip families to support their kids as they become successful readers and joyful learners.

Other grantee partners help kids build their own libraries at home through free book giveaway programs at schools, libraries, family resource centers and health clinics. Book Trust, a new grantee partner, hosts book parties to deliver books with a generous helping of fun. Reach Out and Read integrates routine baby health checkups by trusted, literacy-wise pediatricians with a free book (maybe a lollipop, too!). And organizations like Lotus Bloom Family Resource Center infuse playgroups with literacy, healthy social emotional development and positive parenting.

“It is humbling to realize again and again that the [Reach Out and Read] book we provide is often the first book the family has ever owned…Reach Out and Read and early literacy are essential to providing pediatric health care in our clinic.”

Oakland Medical Provider

Pediatricians are trained to speak with families about the importance of reading aloud and interacting with their children. Photo courtesy: Reach Out and Read

Oakland Families Provide Insights

In 2017, we continued digging into research findings by Dr. Marc W. Hernandez from NORC at the University of Chicago. In partnership with the Foundation, his team conducted an extensive household survey of 427 Oakland families with young children in 14 elementary school communities. By illuminating their experiences, we discovered numerous informal strategies they rely on to support their children’s success. We also understood more about primary caregivers’ dreams for their children, and their concerns and beliefs about how children learn.

Insights into the cultural, economic and social distinctions and similarities of each neighborhood are also revealing. Some findings challenged our own assumptions about community needs and assets. The household interview results offer a treasure trove of data, and we began sharing them last year. In combination with student data from our partner schools, this research is invaluable to supporting families and their children’s reading success. We remain grateful to all the families who participated. They are helping us learn how we and our community partners can provide valued, effective resources.


What We Learned From Oakland Families

Families make great use of Oakland Public Library services, but struggle to access services for special needs.

There’s a huge opportunity to help young children build vocabulary—one of the biggest levers for school readiness.

Many families have access to a smartphone and have internet access in the home.

Springboard Collaborative’s afterschool and summer programs give Oakland families continued support for learning. Photo credit: Ana Homonnay

Investing in Children: 2017 Grantees

The Rainin Foundation supports programs that help Oakland children be ready for kindergarten and on track for third grade reading success. We are honored to partner with these schools and community-based organizations who are helping children become confident, capable and joyful learners. View more information about these grants.

Aspire Public Schools:

  • Berkley Maynard Academy
  • College Academy
  • Eres Academy
  • Monarch Academy
  • Triumph Technology Academy


Book Trust

Center for Collaborative Classroom

City of Oakland Head Start Preschool Classrooms

Community School for Creative Education

East Bay Agency for Children

East Bay Community Foundation

Education for Change:

  • Achieve Academy
  • Cox Academy
  • Lazear Charter Academy
  • Learning Without Limits

Friends of the Oakland Public Library

Lighthouse Community Charter School

Literacy Lab

Lotus Bloom

NORC at University of Chicago

Oakland Literacy Coalition

Oakland Public Ed Fund

Oakland Unified School District:

  • Allendale Elementary
  • Bella Vista Elementary
  • Bridges Academy
  • Burckhalter Elementary
  • Carl B. Munck Elementary
  • East Oakland Pride Elementary
  • Emerson Elementary
  • EnCompass Academy
  • Esperanza Elementary
  • Franklin Elementary
  • Garfield Elementary
  • Glenview Elementary
  • Greenleaf Elementary
  • Hoover Elementary
  • Horace Mann Elementary
  • Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy
  • La Escuelita Elementary
  • Lincoln Elementary
  • Manzanita Community Elementary
  • Manzanita Seed
  • New Highland Academy
  • Parker Elementary
  • Place @ Prescott
  • Reach Academy
  • Rise Community School
  • Sankofa Academy

Reach Out and Read

Reading Partners

Roses in Concrete Community School

SEEDS of Learning

Springboard Collaborative

St. Mary’s Center Preschool

Tandem, Partners in Early Learning

Unity Council

Urban Montessori Charter School

Vincent Academy

YMCA 21st Street Preschool

Explore the Foundation’s website to learn more about our Education program.