Packard Foundation Announces New Initiative To Target Young Children

The Los Altos, Calif.-based David and Lucile Packard Foundation has announced a ten-year investment to improve outcomes for young children.

The Starting Smart and Strong Initiative will be under the umbrella of Packard’s Children, Families and Communities Program Area. The foundation seeks to improve interactions between children and the influential adults in their lives using an evidence-based approach.

The foundation has identified three California communities to test the program – Fresno, Oakland and San Jose – after a statewide feasibility study. Inaugural Starting Smart and Strong grants were awarded to the Franklin-McKinley School District, the Fresno Unified School District, and the Oakland Public Education Fund.

The goal of the program is to improve the quality of early learning experiences for children up to age five, particularly focusing on children with high needs. To accomplish this, each grantee will be focused on improving adult – child interactions, including parents/caregivers and educators.

The three cities were chosen based on several factors. All of the communities were already engaged in some level of innovation and reform on the early development front. They were able to bring a diverse set of stakeholders to the table.  And most importantly they are willing to experiment on early childhood interventions and consequently use public resources to implement and continue the findings.

The program targets preschool teachers, parents and informal caregivers. Teachers will receive additional professional development and parents and/or caregivers will learn how to effectively support their children during the early years of their lives.

According to Meera Mani, Director of the Children, Youth, Families and Communities Program at the Packard Foundation, targeting the adults in a child’s life will yield the most effective change. “If you really want to make a difference in the lives of kids, you have to be about teachers, parents, and caregivers” said Mani in a phone interview.

The work done at each site will be guided by five core practices to increase children’s learning:

  • “Scaffolding learning,” the process in which an adult supports the deeper learning of a child by enabling the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts
  • Building on a child’s interests
  • Providing positive guidance
  • Responding promptly
  • Reading and storytelling

Packard has also set up an Early Learning Lab, which is led by Director Catherine Atkin, Senior Advisor to the Foundation and former President of Early Edge California.

The lab will offer technical assistance to the grantees to co-develop interventions. The lab will also serve as an external support to help assess the effectiveness of the local interventions.

Mani believes that over the next ten years, further opportunities for local partners may arise as the communities re-align how services are delivered.

The Packard Foundation was founded in 1964 by David Packard – founder of Hewlett Packard and his wife, Lucile. In 2013, the foundation had $6.9 billion in assets and giving totaled $295 million.

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Judith Fenlon
About Judith Fenlon 165 Articles
Money & Business Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change