Below is a roundup highlighting some of the impactful work our grantees and Foundation staff accomplished in April 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect many of our grantees and those they serve. You can learn more about how our Foundation is responding through some of the stories below and by reading this post.
NewSchools Venture Fund, Instruction Partners & Transcend
In an op-ed published in Forbes, CEO of Newschools Venture Fund Stacey Childress highlights several organizations who are leaders in rethinking “business as usual” for schools and school districts.
Instructions Partners, a nonprofit that works with small and medium-sized school districts to help teachers improve their instructional practice, began sharing different models of distance learning with educators and creating weekly instructional resources to support them back in March. As the crisis continued and officials began sharing road maps for recovery, Instruction Partners shifted to thinking about the implications for schools.
“Education leaders can and should live in the present, tackling the immediate needs of their students, families, and communities,” said Instruction Partners CEO Emily Freitag. “Organizations like ours should be looking ahead and engaging in anticipatory work that can be helpful to leaders when they reach the next chapter.”
Similarly, Transcend, a nonprofit working with school systems across states to redesign their existing education systems, identified “three jobs that matter” for school communities during and after the crisis: responding, recovering, and reinventing. The team believes that some communities will want to rethink how they serve students, and, for those schools, it’s critical to navigate a recovery phase that creates the conditions, vision, and relationships necessary to succeed.
NewSchools Venture Fund, Instruction Partners, and Transcend are grantees in the Innovative Schools portfolio.
Waterford UPSTART launched Early Learning Boosts, a free email series of videos and activities designed for three and four-year-olds in both English and Spanish reports CBS KX News. Instead of searching for activities to do with their children, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Early Learning Boosts delivers age-appropriate material straight to parents’ inboxes.
UPSTART is also piloting their at-home kindergarten readiness program for four-year-olds in Illinois. The program, designed to address the access gap for the millions of four-year-olds in the U.S. who lack access to publicly-funded early-education programs, will launch in East St. Louis.
“East St. Louis is one of the areas that we were targeting because we try to find the families that don’t have early education options, whether it’s because of transportation, because of funding, or because of rural locations. And so East St. Louis was one of the areas that was given to us as an area that maybe had some families who are struggling,” UPSTART’s Kim Fischer told KMOV4. The program is currently enrolling 200 families in the pilot program.
Waterford UPSTART is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio. They also received a rapid response grant from the foundation to help bring an expedited K-readiness learning program to 15,000 children this summer.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Khan Academy has seen a twenty-fold increase in new parents signing up, Khan Academy Founder Salman Khan told CNBC. Approximately 1.4 billion children have been impacted by their schools closing, and an increasing number of districts throughout the United States have announced that they will not be re-opening their classrooms for this academic year. As more parents turn to online resources to help them keep up with their educational requirements, Khan Academy has begun rolling out new tools designed specifically for them.
“What we’ve been doing is trying to provide extra support,” Khan said. “We’ve published schedules for parents and teachers so they can understand how to structure the day. We’ve just published some learning plans so students can understand not just how to keep learning through the end of the school year, but how to leverage summers so that the learning doesn’t stop.”
With this surge in web traffic, Khan Academy’s expenses have also been mounting. In a typical year, the organization might spend $7 million on server costs. This year, they worry that that cost might jump to more than $20 million, reports Tony Wan in EdSurge. In a post-COVID-19 world, Khan sees a balance between online and in-person learning as the ‘silver-lining’ from this crisis.
Despite the stay-at-home orders preventing in-person home visits, Nurse-Family Partnership continues to deliver its programs—but now while social distancing. Home visitors in California, for example, are dropping in via video conference, recording stories, leaving educational materials on doorsteps, and even parking outside families’ homes with a mobile hotspot so that they can stay connected to their clients. In remote communities, these virtual visits were already routine.
Nurse-Family Partnership incorporated remote contact with clients in 2017. For remote communities, for example, virtual visits were the only way to reach some families in need. By January of this year, about 85% of local programs routinely included virtual visits, “using when needed to meet their clients’ needs, when a home visit wasn’t possible,” says Fran Benton, director of public relations for NFP. That increased to 100% when the pandemic spread throughout the U.S.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nurse-Family Partnership Supervisor Erin Andrews told The Daily Sentinel that they had to transition to a 100% telemedicine model for states like Colorado, who spent April under a stay-at-home order. And for some families, the digital-first approach has also meant more frequent check-ins with their visiting nurse, helping to provide new opportunities to answer questions, engage with clients, and soothe nerves during a stressful time.
Nurse-Family Partnership is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.
New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund
Last month, New Jersey Business reported that the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund (NJPRF) announced its first round of grants aimed at helping to stabilize the food distribution network, which serves more than 1,000,000 residents in vulnerable communities across the state. Launched in March, NJPRF marshals resources to fight the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey and, over the past few weeks, has garnered a broad base of stakeholders and advisors to enable the organization to act rapidly.
“After an unprecedented generous response by donors around the country, we are able to announce our first grants to 110 service organizations in 20 of New Jersey’s 21 counties,” said Tammy Murphy, First Lady of New Jersey and NJPRF founder. “Without this assistance, some pantries might have had to close their doors or reduce services, leaving neighbors searching for their next meal and putting additional pressure on the other local organizations.”
Thanks to stars like Jon Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Jon Bon Jovi, SZA, and Halsey, among others, NJPRF raised nearly $6 million through the “Jersey 4 Jersey” benefit held on April 22. “It was an hour filled with music, hometown pride, and tributes to the New Jersey state of mind,” wrote Amy Kuperinksy for NJ.com.
New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund is a grantee of the foundation.
All Our Kin
Although New York City’s Department of Health closed center-based childcare facilities in the interest of public health, family childcare programs—home-based programs serving small groups of children—remain open. In New York City, roughly 70 percent of the childcare programs that work with All Our Kin are still providing care to the children of essential workers.
Though their work is essential, these childcare providers are overlooked by policies and emergency funds available to mitigate the financial burdens of COVID-19.
“Family childcare providers are putting their own health and safety on the line to continue to care for our children—and now, more than ever, we need to step up to help them,” argues Jessica Sager, All Our Kin co-founder and chief executive officer, in an op-ed published in the New York Daily News.
All Our Kin is a grantee of the foundation.
Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund
With more than 50 million students at home from school, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced teachers, parents, and students—ready or not—into a system of technology-enabled virtual learning. For teachers and students who were already leveraging technology in the classroom, this transition has been much more manageable. While technology, high-quality curricula, and online teacher training all play a significant role, the center of the classroom—whether physical or virtual—is the teacher.
In an op-ed published in the 74, Amber Oliver, Nirvani Budhram, and Steve Azeka of the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund highlight three best practices schools can use to respond to the current crisis and to start preparing for the future.
Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.
RAND Corp’s American Teacher Panel
According to new data from the American Instructional Resources Survey administered by the American Teacher Panel, before the COVID-19 pandemic, most teachers used digital instructional materials as a supplement to textbooks and other resources. And fewer than 20 percent of teachers reported using digital materials for more than half of their teaching.
While in the classroom, YouTube, Kahoot!, ReadWorks, and Khan Academy were the digital resources cited most frequently.
“These findings suggest to us that teachers who are now providing online instruction for students could be using digital materials that are not really intended to support students over time,” commented Katie Tosh, a RAND policy analyst and a report author, and RAND AIRS project lead Julia Kaufman. “Instead, these materials could be providing a lot of one-shot practice opportunities that may not connect to other materials or to the curricula students were using before schools closed.”
RAND Corp’s American Teacher Panel is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.
AT&T officially announced that they are contributing $250,000 to Learn Fresh for the enhancement and expansion of the NBA Math Hoops mobile app. NBA Math Hoops is a comprehensive community program that helps students learn fundamental math skills through basketball. NBA Math Hoops has already reached more than 250,000 U.S. students; within two weeks of the COVID-19-related school closures, Learn Fresh provided over 2,000 families with the NBA Math Hoops board game.
Learn Fresh / NBA Math Hoops is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
Museum of Mathematics (MoMath)
A new initiative from the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) sends subscribers—adults and children alike—a weekly “mind-bender” to keep their brains busy in quarantine, reports Mental Floss. Dubbed the “Mind-Benders for the Quarantined,” MoMath’s puzzle master Dr. Peter Winkler sends the weekly puzzles on Sunday, giving participants a week to complete them. On Tuesday, MoMath sends a “subtle hint,” a “serious push” on Thursday, and, finally, the solution on Saturday. The next day, the fun begins again with a new brain teaser. New participants can sign up here.
MoMath is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, inventor, entrepreneur, and FIRST founder Dean Kamen has been playing a vital role in helping New Hampshire secure more than 90,000 pounds of desperately-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and shields. Kamen has also been leveraging his company’s engineering resources to develop innovative solutions to the current and any potential future crisis, like exploring how to distribute portable water purifiers to ensure an adequate supply of sterile water for hospitals.
Kamen’s influence has been felt far outside of New Hampshire. High school FIRST Robotics Competition teams around the world have been lending their resources and expertise to their communities, as well.
Newton High School’s RaileRobotics Team 935 quickly pivoted from designing and building their robot for the first competition to designing and 3D printing medical masks.
“We took a design from a dental clinic from Montana,” team captain Jakob Graber told Hutch News. “We have refined it… like making it easier to clean, and changing the filter holders so things don’t just wedge in there, but it snaps in.”
Similar stories are coming from other states, as well, including Texas, where the Conroe ISD robotics team Texas Torque has started producing face shields and masks for their community.
FIRST is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
ST Math / MIND Research Institute
ST Math is an award-winning visual instructional program that includes more than 35,000 puzzles, with interactive representations of math topics aligned to all state standards, pioneered by MIND Research Institute. Because the puzzles are visual, there are no language barriers to overcome, making the program highly accessible to students regardless of language or skill level. As COVID-19 forced students from classrooms, ST. Math acted swiftly to provide new resources and no-cost access to its platform for students across the country.
In this recent interview, Brett Woudenberg, CEO of MIND Research, discusses the decision to open up the program to everyone and how ST Math is helping parents and students.
ST Math / MIND Research Institute is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.
In response to COVID-19, DonorsChoose.org launched a new campaign dedicated to helping teachers provide basic supplies to students in high-need communities. Called “Keep Kids Learning,” the program makes it possible for teachers to send books, food, and basic classroom materials to kids at home.
So far, more than 5,000 teachers have been connected with funding, and DonorsChoose.org expects to help thousands more. All funds donated go straight to the teachers and students who need them most. Learn more at donorschoose.org/coronavirus.
DonorsChoose.org is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio. The foundation has supported this effort as part of its COVID-19 rapid response, funding all projects in New Jersey.
Family Math Initiative
In an op-ed published in The74, Program Officer Gemma Lenowitz joins Kimberly Brenneman from Heising-Simons Foundation, Margaret Caspe of the National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement, and Kelly James, a partner at Education First Consulting, to encourage dedicated family math time at home.
Exploring and playing with math early helps develop children’s cognitive, social, and emotional skills. And with the current crisis and the possibility of similar crises in the future, now is the perfect opportunity for parents to explore family math outside the classroom.
The Family Math initiative is funded by the Inspired Minds portfolio.