Photo courtesy of Early Literacy Kings

Alan Williams, an Early Literacy King, works with students in small groups at Markham Elementary School.

Making A Difference In Young Learners’ Lives

The early years of a child’s education make an enormous difference in their life-long success. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation seeks to transform early childhood learning in Oakland so that all students can succeed regardless of their race, level of income or neighborhood. The stark disparities revealed by the ongoing pandemic and movement for racial justice reaffirmed our commitment to advancing educational equity. Children and their families continue to be at the heart of our work.

“We are so grateful to our Community Strategy Council for helping identify the root causes of systemic issues. With their input and expertise, we co-designed equity-focused strategies and surfaced community-led solutions.”

Shelley Trott, Chief Program Officer

Photos courtesy of Lotus Bloom

Lotus Bloom’s family resource centers continued to provide essential supports for Oakland children and their families.

Responding To Intersecting Challenges

The return to in-school learning delighted and challenged young students and their dedicated educators. Families and school communities faced ongoing equity concerns about safety protocols and vaccine disparities. Oakland’s caring teachers and tutors navigated students’ varied learning progress along with the pandemic’s effect on children’s mental health and wellbeing. Fewer afterschool supports disrupted the continuum of care that working parents and caregivers relied on for their children. Rainin Foundation grantees provided essential services and supports to meet these intersecting challenges and inequities.

Our 2021 grantmaking embraced four equity-focused strategies to improve outcomes for children from birth to eight years old. Our Community Strategy Council was instrumental in co-designing these strategies and elevating community solutions. They also played a key role in helping us shift toward participatory grantmaking, power-sharing and democratic decision-making. As we strengthened our practice of trust-based philanthropy, we also streamlined the application process and provided more multi-year grants to reduce administrative burdens for grantees.

“Oakland’s early learning community is a vibrant ecosystem of dedicated people who innovated and stretched to support children and their families in navigating yet another challenging year.”

Dana Cilono, Education Program Officer

Photos courtesy of Parent Voices Oakland

Members of Parent Voices Oakland mobilized families to advocate for economic and educational justice outside the Alameda County Administrative Building.

Creating A Thriving Ecosystem For Learning

Oakland has a strong network of community-based organizations that support early learning inside and outside of the classroom, and address family needs. A spectrum of grantee organizations prioritize asset-based and culturally affirming programs that contribute to a thriving ecosystem for learning.

In 2021, Mindful Life Project partnered with schools to provide mindfulness and wellness instruction. Lessons connected students, teachers and their families to their everyday experiences, using trauma-informed, culturally relevant methods to nurture social-emotional skills. Parent Voices Oakland is a Black-led grassroots organization that builds the political power of parents, families and caregivers. Their advocacy supported culturally competent, family-centered learning environments and increased access to early mental health interventions at social service organizations.

Another grantee, Partnership for Children & Youth, brought afterschool programs to public and affordable housing communities. Their HousED initiative built the capacity of housing leaders and staff to deliver high-quality education programs for children. And Tandem, Partners in Early Learning offered virtual early childhood literacy workshops and read-alouds for the community. In partnership with Alameda County Public Health Department’s Fatherhood Initiative, they adopted Father Friendly Principles into their direct service work to both empower fathers and better support their unique needs. These collaborations are surfacing innovative and promising solutions.

Photo courtesy of Early Literacy Kings

Edward Villanueva, an Early Literacy King, helps two students develop early literacy skills at Lockwood STEAM Academy in Oakland.

Recruiting And Retaining Teachers Of Color

A growing body of research confirms important academic benefits when students of color have teachers that reflect their identity. Two of our grantees launched programs to increase diversity among educators. The Oakland Unified School District’s Office of Equity is addressing the shortage of male teachers of color through its Early Literacy Kings program. The program recruits and trains men of color between the ages of 18 and 24 to be highly skilled SEEDS of Learning tutors. SEEDS is a professional development and coaching model designed around data-driven, emotionally responsive and equity-promoting strategies to build social, emotional, language, and literacy skills in young children. As SEEDS tutors, the Kings work closely with students and gain hands-on experience leading one-on-one and small group instruction in classrooms. Their impact extends to language, culture and academic progress. The Kings also receive professional development, mentorship and other supports to pursue successful careers in education.

Our funding for the City of Oakland’s Deputy Mayor of Education helped advance efforts to develop Teachers Rooted in Oakland. This pilot initiative provides affordable housing subsidies to recruit and retain teachers of color in Oakland. Its creators are working on state legislation to increase student teachers’ pay and affordable housing options for all California educators.

Photo courtesy of 3Ls Academy

Students from the Literacy, Leadership and Liberation Academy (3Ls Academy).

Promoting A Participatory Culture Of Learning

Our grantmaking supported networks that promote a participatory culture of learning among school communities, caregivers, friends, families and neighbors. Fulcrum is shepherding several neighborhood-based initiatives to promote early literacy. Their “educating, disrupting and bridging” approach invests in data, advocacy and coalition building to undo systemic obstacles to literacy. Literacy, Leadership and Liberation Academy (3Ls Academy) equips Black and Latinx leadership teams to deliver instructional support to students. Their community learning centers create neighborhood hubs for teachers and parents to strengthen early childhood education.

“It’s time to do what works, and keep building on the success of the Virtual Family Hub that was built for families, by families.”

Lakisha Young, Founder and CEO, The Oakland REACH as quoted in “Great School Voices”

Photo courtesy of Kidango

SEEDS of Learning teachers at Kidango are equipped with strategies and tools to support children’s social emotional development and increase literacy.

Researching A Proven Teaching Model

FluentSeeds promotes early learning and literacy through the SEEDS of Learning framework. They continued to expand SEEDS of Learning in Oakland, giving teachers strategies and tools to address students’ varied learning progress. SEEDS teachers are eager to apply their growing expertise to shaping instruction in their classrooms.

Research released in 2021 shows that SEEDS of Learning produces statistically significant, positive changes for students and teachers after just one year. The Foundation engaged NORC at the University of Chicago to conduct research to understand the impact of this relationship-based professional development and coaching model. Using a randomized control trial, NORC divided 26 Kidango preschools into sites where teachers received SEEDS coaching support and sites where they did not. The study’s next phase will examine whether multiple years of SEEDS training and coaching continue to drive improvements in teacher knowledge and student early reading skills. This research is helping us better understand what is needed to create significant improvements in student literacy outcomes. SEEDS continued success is key to our goal of all Oakland children reading at or above grade level by third grade.

“In order for children to learn, they first need to feel safe and that they belong. Kidango has prioritized the adoption of the SEEDS program to coach and empower our teachers to meet students where they are.”

Scott Moore, CEO of Kidango

Photos courtesy of the Oakland Literacy Coalition

The Kijiji Experience hosted a book giveaway with local author Kamaria Lofton reading and singing aloud from her Kids Love Oakland! series. This event was made possible through an Oakland Literacy Coalition Action Grant, which helps ensure that Oakland students have access to high-quality, culturally affirming books.

Supporting The Early Learning Community

City-wide collaborative efforts supported the adults who care for and educate Oakland’s babies, toddlers and preschoolers in both formal and informal settings. The Oakland Literacy Coalition continued engaging its network of local organizations in championing effective practice and literacy for young learners.

Another grantee, Oakland Starting Smart and Strong, counts the Coalition among its many partners for the third annual Early Learning Symposium. This year’s virtual series, “Navigating the New Now: Building a Community of Support,” kicked off in November with a workshop on fostering social-emotional skills through books. This event aims to strengthen Oakland’s learning community of formal and informal childcare providers.

“We remain committed to Oakland’s children. Our grantees and partners were essential to uplifting the wellbeing of families and communities through wraparound services and powerful grassroots efforts.”

Shelley Trott, Chief Program Officer

Photo courtesy of Tandem, Partners in Early Learning

Susan Chen, a Tandem Early Learning Specialist, leads a storytime in Cantonese. Tandem, Partners in Early Learning believes books should reflect children’s lived experiences and introduce them to the lived experiences of others.

Centering Community Solutions:
2021 Grantees

The Rainin Foundation invested nearly $5.3 million in 2021 to improve literacy among Oakland’s children.

Education grantmaking supports programs that help ensure Oakland children are ready for kindergarten and on track for third grade reading success.

Note: Grantmaking amount includes $1.3 million of multi-year grants committed in a prior year. Financials are subject to audit verification.


At the heart of our approach are four equity-focused strategies that, when operating together in a learning ecosystem, can lead to improved outcomes for children. We are honored to partner with these organizations. Learn more about the 2021 Education Program grant recipients.

Teaching And Learning


Education for Change


Leadership for Liberation, Anti-Racist Collective


Literacy, Leadership and Liberation Academy (3Ls Academy)

Mindful Life Project

NORC At the University of Chicago

Oakland REACH Family Hub

Oakland Unified School District Literacy Project

Oakland Unified School District: Men of Color Early Literacy Kings

Partnership for Children & Youth

Reading Partners


Support For Families And Communities

Bay Area Parent Leader Action Network

East Bay Agency for Children

High Expectations


Lotus Bloom

Oakland Public Library

Parent Voices Oakland

Tandem, Partners in Early Learning

Strategic Networks

City of Oakland Mayor’s Office


Oakland Literacy Coalition

Oakland Starting Smart & Strong


This discretionary fund supports exceptional and emerging opportunities that will have an outsized impact and move us closer toward our vision of all Oakland children reading at or above grade level, no one suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Bay Area artists thriving.

Cares for Learning

Partnership for Children & Youth

Explore the Foundation’s website to learn more about our Education program and meet our staff and Board members.