Creating a Strong Foundation for Learning
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 their life. Furthermore, researchers, experts, and policy-makers all agree that we must invest in early childhood education to ensure a strong workforce, robust economy, and safe communities in the future.
The social conditions around COVID-19 have made access to high-quality early childhood education more important than ever before, especially for the black and brown families we serve who continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The stress and instability caused by the pandemic places these young children at significantly higher risk of falling behind in their academic, social, and emotional development. These detrimental impacts can be mitigated through participation in high-quality early childhood education programs.
Why Focus on Quality Improvement?
Now more than ever, early childhood centers must respond to a shifting array of needs and offer services that encompass entire families. With the number of demands put on child care centers, the ability to have resources marked for quality rather than "putting out fires" is important. Through the Early Childhood Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP), Bright Promises helps to address this need for quality-improvement at early childhood education agencies across Cook County.
Even with increasing awareness about the importance of quality early childhood education, there are very few opportunities for early childhood education centers in Illinois to receive support specifically for quality improvement. EQUIP is distinctive in the field for its focus on helping early childhood education centers make sustainable, quality improvements directly tied to healthy child growth and development.
Without this grant, we would be ill-equipped to face the demands that many children are presenting in the classroom and we would have limited resources and information to pass along to families.
EQUIP provides support to early childhood education agencies to implement sustainable quality improvements that directly benefit low-income children between the ages of birth to five. EQUIP’s philosophy is that all early childhood centers should promote the overall well-being of children by encouraging a love of learning and healthy physical and mental development. Bright Promises believes that: (1) Young children learn best through experiential learning, activities and play; (2) Promoting positive social/emotional skills and resilience is important; (3) Learning and development are maximized when parents/caregivers are engaged; and (4) It is important to acknowledge children’s individual strengths and natural curiosity.
Evaluation Results: Understanding What Works, and Why
Building capacity is a core driver of Bright Promises’ mission, therefore evaluation is a critical part of our approach. In addition to providing our EQUIP partners with multi-year support, Bright Promises regularly conducts a thorough evaluation of the EQUIP program to ensure that quality improvements being made are lasting and sustainable.
Bright Promises recently completed an external evaluation of the EQUIP program from 2017-2020. This evaluation found that EQUIP remains a strong, effective, and needed source of support and is unique in its focus on quality improvements. The evaluation results demonstrated that EQUIP is a well-constructed, meaningful grant program filling a critical need in early childhood agencies. Grants continue to result in positive, lasting improvements in the quality of care for the youngest of children.
Bright Promises awarded 33 grants to 19 organizations between 2017 and 2020. Overall funding awarded was 14% higher than the last evaluation. According to a survey of partner organizations who represent 82% of all EQUIP grantees, EQUIP reached nearly 2,000 children and over 500 parents/caregivers and 600 teachers.
Half of all funded projects funded between 2017 and 2020 (excluding COVID-specific grants) supported quality improvements focused on student well-being, such as calm classroom, mental health, and social and emotional learning. Parent engagement was the next most frequently funded project type at 36%. Academic preparation represented 29% of all projects.
EQUIP remains a critical source of support for early childhood centers. This finding is consistent with previous evaluation findings, demonstrating the long-term relevance of this grant program.
According to the partner organizations that had completed their EQUIP project at the time of the evaluation survey:
- 93% said they achieved lasting quality improvements at their centers.
- 93% of agree or strongly agree that "the grant allowed us to experiment/take a risk in testing a new approach to how we do our work."
- 93% agree or strongly agree that "the grant allowed us to add critical systems/procedures to carry out our work."
- 93% agree or strongly agree that “the project resulted in the desired outcomes.”
- 100% agree or strongly that “the quality improvement implemented through the grant is now embedded in their agency's operating culture.”
While focused on addressing a key area of quality improvement, EQUIP projects go far beyond their stated outcomes. They have positive, reverberating effects throughout entire early childhood agencies. According to the evaluation results, 75% of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that “the funded project led to agency-wide improvements beyond their anticipated outcome.” Another 77% agreed or strongly agree that “we have built upon the outcomes and grown their expertise in the grant-funded subject area.”
Interested in learning more about the reach and impact of the EQUIP program? CLICK HERE to read the full 2017-2020 EQUIP Evaluation Report.