Its methods: “We are intensely focused on what science tells us about what works to support children and families, and what makes the adults who affect their lives, such as teachers, school leaders, and policymakers, create change,” says the organization’s president, Diana Rauner, PhD. “We develop strategies and relationship-based solutions that we know are effective in promoting high-quality early learning experiences for young children.” The organization works on the ground in classrooms and in homes while also focusing on improving the early education systems by advocating at the state and national levels.
Research underpins all its programs: The organization is connected to the leading early childhood researchers across the field. It also has an in-house research and evaluation team that partners with university research programs and that mines its own data in order to ensure continuous improvement and discover effective new approaches.
The Ounce supports a national network of 21 Educare schools that provide financially disadvantaged children with a science-based program that prepares them for kindergarten. Its home-visiting program provides families with regular coaching on all aspects of childhood development including nutrition, attachment bonding, and language, and looks out for conditions such as maternal depression, substance abuse, or domestic violence. The Ounce runs a doula program that works with first-time teen parents, as well as other families, and partners with a network of Early Head Start and Head Start programs to reach more than 1,400 low-income Chicago children.
On the advocacy front, the Ounce provides parents and community members with tools for effectively getting their voices heard by policymakers and consults with advocates, government officials, policymakers, school district leaders, and business leaders to help them build early education systems.
It’s also working to increase the pipeline of qualified early education professionals through programs such as Lead Learn Excel, which has trained more than 300 school leaders across Illinois on how to improve instruction in their schools. The organization also trains home visitors in person and through its innovative online learning portal, and it provides funding, training, and technical assistance to 40 Illinois agencies.
Its impact: “We are deeply passionate about our mission, but this is not a sentimental journey. We are hard-nosed about achieving positive outcomes for our children and families,” says Rauner. The Ounce’s reach is extensive: It serves 4,000 children and families and trains more than 3,000 community-based early childhood professionals in Illinois each year. It also has advocated for policies that will affect 400,000 Illinois children and 6 million children around the country.
How the Satter Foundation has helped: “Taking ideas from concept to execution and adoption is labor- and resource-intensive,” says Rauner. “It requires bringing together a tremendous variety of skills and partnerships. Kristen has a deep understanding of how critical early childhood learning is to long-term success. Private support like that of the Satter Foundation is necessary for giving our organization the capacity to develop new solutions.”
What’s next for the Ounce: The organization is continuing its efforts to develop human capital in the early childhood field. “This is a very fragmented sector,” Rauner explains. “We need to bring the workforce to the level where it can effectively meet the challenges that come with educating children at this young age.”