Evaluation of Early Childhood Program Shows Big Impact on Small Children

August 4, 2017

The Evaluation of Early Quality Education Improvement Program (EQUIP)

by Parker Barry

This summer, Bright Promises completed an evaluation of  the Early Childhood Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP) between the years of 2014-2016. Quality education in the early stages of childhood helps build social skills, confidence, and, overall, prepares children for success in school and in life. Children that come from low-income homes often lack access to quality early child education. This can greatly affect their children’s chances of living a healthy and successful life. 

The importance of early childhood education is clear: if a child is already at a disadvantage before kindergarten they are that much more likely to struggle throughout the rest of his or her life. This is why EQUIP was created in 2004 to support early childhood education agencies in Cook County; focusing on improving the lives of economically vulnerable children ages 0-5.

The purpose of this evaluation is to help us to identify what “success” really means to the children and families we serve through the EQUIP program, and to help us set realistic goals and objectives for this initiative. Through evaluation, we are also able to identify common metrics for collecting data from our diverse partners. This provides a better understanding of what strategies are effective and which are not in the different communities we serve.

Between 2014 and 2016, Bright Promises funded 36 grants for a group of 23 organizations through the EQUIP program, totaling hundreds of thousand of dollars and serving thousands of children and families across Illinois. Through each of these partnerships, Bright Promises worked with community organization to enhance less fortunate children’s well being. The majority of the grants (80%) provided to these organizations went towards Social Emotional Learning, resources for mental health and a calm classroom. The other funds contributed to other necessities such as parent engagement and kindergarten and school readiness.

This evaluation yielded several important findings about the effectiveness and impact of the EQUIP program. Expert evaluators found that:

Pictured: Young children at Children's Place Association use books about empathy as a tool for building social emotional skills.

Bright Promises often funds new and innovative solutions to long standing issues. Because of this, it is crucial that we conduct thorough and strategic evaluations of our work. 

With these evaluations, Bright Promises gains a better knowledge and understanding of the effects of the partnerships. We also apply this knowledge moving forward, making changes to foster even better partnerships in the future. 

Through the EQUIP evaluation, we found that our program partners used a variety of approaches to change the function of the classroom in a way that is both emotionally healthy and promotes academic success. These approaches can range from staff workshops to classroom observation or coaching to direct parent training.

Examples of different strategic quality improvement programs include:

Student well-being: Children’s Home + Aid received two years of funding for its Palatine center to enhance its classroom environments and to enhance concentration and improve child functioning.

Academic Preparation: Trinity United Church of Christ Child Care Centers received funding for the Literacy Connection Project, with a goal of increasing children's understanding of language to foster a passion for reading.

Curricular Enhancements: Lutheran Social Services received a grant to broaden the number and range of parent activities and trainings it offers, to create a systematic approach for involving parents, and to show teachers and other family support the “parent engagement framework”.

“The project has had a profound impact on the ways staff understand the experiences and needs of the young children in their care.”  
Children at Onward House are dressed in their best for the Pre-School Prom

We found that not only are the results of the EQUIP evaluation positive, they are even more positive than we had hoped. 94% of the grantees reported that their funded projects resulted in the desired outcome. In addition, our partners reported a number of unanticipated positive outcomes — for example, the staff and teachers have created more unity in the workplace and have taken on bigger roles in the classroom as the result of the program at their agency. “They have taken more ownership and pride in their classroom environment. The project has created more cohesion within teams of staff at [our organization].”

100% of the grantees agreed that “the quality improvement” programs supported by Bright Promises Foundation are now a working part of each agency’s culture. This means that the positive impact of this program will benefit not only the children currently served by each agency, but will continue to benefit future children. “I have been talking about this specific project for seven years. It took us this long to do it. When we received the EQUIP grant, we finally had the money we needed to bring the expertise in house to help us. This is exactly the kind of money that is so hard to get and it is exactly the work we need to do.”

Thanks to the evaluation of the EQUIP Early Childhood Quality Improvement Program, Bright Promises is now better equipped than ever to understand the outcome of our partnerships and follow our work as it is integrated into the classroom and the community, creating lasting positive results for economically disadvantaged children now and in the future.

Special thanks to volunteers Parker Barry for her summary of this extensive evaluation and to Marty Carver for his beautiful re-design of the EQUIP logo. Thank you!