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Embedding Early Childhood Learning At Home: Public Housing Collaborating with Early Childhood Educators

Our vision is to provide warm and well-curated early learning support to under-resourced and at-risk parents and children where they live.

Photo of Betsey Martens
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Our idea has matured substantially and we have re-thought and re-written every section of this application. The iterative process has been inspiring. Our application has evolved from a housing policy-focused initiative to a parent and child-centered program. Our mentor helped us understand the key elements of early learning and how a stable and safe home contributes to the education of a young child. From that foundation, we were better able to evaluate the opportunities and resources that the housing sector can contribute. Our interaction with other applicants has also shaped our thinking.

Name or Organization

Affordable Housing Institute is the 501c3 applicant, teamed with Bringing School Home, LLC, a Boulder-based housing and education consultancy.

Geography

We are based in Boulder, CO and Boston, MA. Initial activity is in CO; and then US-focused.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD

Type

  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Using the platform of stable and affordable housing to create campuses of learning that include parent support communities and host best-in-class innovators in early childhood education will boost the potential for low-income children who face the perception and reality of limited life opportunities. Combined with our network of 3,400 housing authorities across the country, this solution, when brought to scale, could significantly disrupt the cycle of poverty in Boulder County, Colorado, and throughout the United States.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Channel: A new way to deliver existing products or services to customers or end users.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

A mission-motivated housing provider can be a vast untapped potential for filling in some of the missing ingredients in effectively supporting early childhood development: 1) identifying the young children, and their parents, who are most at risk for future learning and achievement gaps; 2) creating a safe and welcoming space, and community, for parents to belong to; 3) curating best-in-class services for them; 4) delivering those services in a barrier-neutral method; 4) reinforcing the learning and support by daily contact on campus; and 5) providing the critical base of stable and affordable housing. As a simple system innovation, we are embedding education support and navigation to where vulnerable and at-risk parents and children already are: home. Our initiative, Embedding Early Childhood Learning At Home, is a project of a larger model called Bringing School Home. Bringing School Home is based on twenty years of success in pairing stable affordable housing with an enriched education program, in this case the I Have A Dream Foundation. From this long experience we have distilled the essence of how housing policy can support early learning.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

We provide an uncomplicated solution to two intrinsic challenges in supporting low-income parents: the challenge of personal isolation and the implicit lack of trust in accessing resources. Isolation is a tremendous risk factor for adverse childhood events as young parents struggle to manage alone. And trust, or rather lack of trust, in the "system" is an enormous barrier to vulnerable parents reaching out for help. Those two hurdles are mitigated when parents receive support at home.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

On most public housing campuses in the United States there is the potential to turn every laundromat into a library; every parent interaction into a teachable moment; every customer engagement into a book exchange; every community clubhouse into a classroom; every service coordinator into an education coordinator; every housing application into a library card application; and every playground a live-and-learn moment. The potential is almost limitless. We want to capture and catalyze this limitless potential by inspiring and supporting housing authorities and other affordable housing providers to create supportive and stable learning environments for low-income families with young children, based on the twenty years of evidence-tested programming in Boulder County, CO. The nation's affordable housing sector is home to the most vulnerable children in America and can be a critical partner to educators to make learning 24-7-365. Public housing authorities know when and where children are born to homes where parents struggle. They know their family circumstance and the challenges they face. They have a trusted relationship with our families and they have community facilities. When you add all that together you get a remarkable early intervention program - if only it could be catalyzed and activated. We can help housing providers become a campus of learners in ways that are low-effort, medium-cost and high impact.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The ultimate beneficiaries of our idea are the parents and children living in public and assisted housing in Boulder County, Colorado. They will benefit from early support as parents via help navigating the early childhood resources available to them; a parent support group; a parent engagement commitment that's co-terminous with their lease; case management support and a "whatever it takes" mentality to help them succeed as their child's first teacher. Additionally, public housing and assisted housing providers in Boulder County will benefit from the coaching, planning, and program development that we will provide for them to develop and implement programs based on a model we have been developing for more than twenty years. And public schools and teachers benefit from children who are learning-ready.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

The intended impact is that children will arrive at kindergarten ready to learn; with strong socio-emotional behaviors; with a reduced number of ACES; with special needs addressed early and supported; and with parents confident about their ongoing role in their child's education. Our goal is to use our housing as a platform for two-generation support and disrupt the generational cycle of poverty. We are a new organization that is inspired and informed by 20 years of practice and success in Boulder in a partnership between Boulder Housing Partners and the I Have A Dream Foundation. That partnership has 20 years of evidence that says at-risk children who are given place-based educational support within their public housing communities can graduate high school at a rate of 92% and enroll in higher education at a rate of 86% - both more than 30 points above what is expected for their demographic.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Our idea is targeted specifically and uniquely at low-income children and their parents. We are targeting the most vulnerable families in our community through a first-in-the-nation admissions process that requires families to have at least one child under the age of six and have a documented risk of homelessness. There is a mountain of evidence that links homelessness and insufficient housing with poor learning achievement, in the moment and in the future. Our program is a wrap-around extended guided tour from birth to employment, offered at no charge to parents. The full cradle to career program is called Bringing School Home. The focus of this application is young children, 0-3.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

The innovation comes from catalyzing a vast and under-utilized learning resource. Of a child's first 18 years of life, from infancy to young adulthood, only 9% of that time is spent in a classroom; the remaining 91% of time orbits around the home. And compelling research exists to confirm that a nurturing and enriched home environment combined with an engaged parent is where learning starts. So, home matters and parents matter so why not engage the single biggest resource in the U.S. that combines the two? Public and assisted housing is home to almost 10 million children, who, by virtue of their zip code, are otherwise destined for under-achievement and future social cost. The resources of the housing sector can be engaged and leveraged to support early, and continued, learning in relatively easy and lost-cost ways. The missing ingredient is a capable national technical assistance provider that can help shape housing policy and resources to partner with an education agenda.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

The scaling of this idea is the easiest part. There are approximately 10 million children living in assisted housing homes in the U.S. and the vast majority of it is managed on a small handful or coordinated and collaborative networks. Many of the early interventions for children can be delivered at no, or low, cost by using public housing as the go-to delivery partner for many of the innovations that exist in the ECE space. What's missing is a catalyzing and organizing element. That's the market vacuum that we intend to fill. The difficult part of scaling our idea is to find a sustainable source of funding for the programming itself. We are entering year two of a Pay for Success model for Bringing School Home programs and feel some hopefulness about that work. Pay for Success, also known as Social Impact Bonds, has surfaced as an innovative approach to address both the need for additional resources and the need to drive better programmatic outcomes. PFS ties payment for service delivery to the achievement of measurable outcomes. Investors provide upfront capital to fund social programs, and governmental entities or others repay the investors to the degree agreed-upon outcomes are achieved. This somewhat new approach fundamentally shifts the paradigm from paying for services (activities, regardless of results) to paying only for outcomes.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

While Embedding Early Learning At Home is a new initiative, Bringing School Home is inspired by 20 years of practice through a partnership between Boulder Housing Partners (the housing authority in the city of Boulder) and the I Have A Dream Foundation of Boulder County. This initial programming began with children at 2nd grade. In July 2015, Boulder Housing Partners introduced its early childhood program. As part of this, Boulder Housing Partners established a first-in-the-nation condition in which admission to a subset of the available public housing was restricted to vulnerable families with a child under the age of six, who were willing to sign a lease that also commits them to their child's education and participation in the early childhood education services offered on site. The program has been readily adopted by parents and community partners. Bringing School Homes plans to replicate this model in several locations in Boulder County as a pilot.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Our business model is based on two innovative public funding ideas: Social Impact Bonds (more commonly known now as Pay for Success - PFS) and a yet-to-be perfected concept of blending Low Income Housing Tax Credits with Child Care Tax Credits. Fee for service is also part of our business model. PFS has surfaced as an innovative approach to address both the need for additional resources and the need to drive better programmatic outcomes. PFS ties payment for service delivery to the achievement of measurable outcomes. Investors provide upfront capital to fund social programs, and governmental entities or others repay the investors to the degree agreed-upon outcomes are achieved. The approach was pioneered in 2010, when social service providers, private investors, and the government came together in Peterborough, UK. The partners entered into binding contracts to use private dollars to invest in preventative services with the promise that if those services produced the targeted outcomes, the government would repay the investors. In PFS financings, the government pays only for results, not activities. In addition, PFS shifts the risk of program failure to private investors rather than taxpayers. Finally, it provides the capital necessary to invest in lower-cost preventative programs instead of high-cost remedial ones. We are currently at the end of Phase 1 feasibility in applying the PFS concept to our model.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Parents are at the center of the design of everything we do. We have parent councils and parent feedback loops that allow us to continually revise and adapt what we offer so that our programs are ultimately parent-centered and parent-driven.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Specifically, my idea came to me on the shores of Lake Como while I was in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center. There, with time to read and think, I came across an opinion column by George Will about early childhood education that, quite literally, changed my life's trajectory. In that column he described the doomed-to-fail nature of public school in a way that became an obsession for me. He shared that, in the first 18 years of a child's life, schools have contact time with children for only 9% of their entire life. The rest of that time is spent at home, and in the community and neighborhood. What happens to a child when the best possible efforts delivered in the 9% time are undone by the reality of a 91% home and community environment that's unstable, unsafe or toxic? In June 2017, after 30 years in the housing and community development sector, and the past 20 years as the CEO of Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), the housing authority for the city of Boulder, I left to devote myself full-time to the work of engaging housing professionals in the mission of closing the achievement and opportunity gaps. I was also the president of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) from 2011-2013, and remain connected to the Association, which gives me a large platform from which to engage my colleagues. My mentor and partner for this project has been David Smith. David Smith is the Founder and CEO of the Affordable Housing Institute, which develops sustainable housing ecosystems worldwide. With more than 30 years' experience in affordable housing, David uniquely combines the roles of practitioner and theoretician, participant and policymaker. In the USA, David provides high-quality analysis to Congress, the Millennial Housing Commission, CBO, HUD, and others. He is also founder and Chairman of Recap Real Estate Advisors.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We could use much more involvement and coaching from the education sector. We have developed a national advisory council populated by some of the major players in the affordable housing sector. If we could populate that Council with equal numbers of educators we'd be much more impactful. Locally, our project is part of a collective impact initiative in Boulder County. The lead partners include the I Have A Dream Foundation, the housing authority, the school district, United Way, the City and County departments of human services and many other human serving organizations.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Our team comes primarily from the housing world. We would love to be partnered more closely with education advisors to help us tailor our interventions more precisely.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

Our team comes primarily from the housing world. We would love to be partnered more closely with education advisors to help us tailor our interventions more precisely.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Betsey Martens is the founder and CEO of Bringing School Home. She was the CEO of Boulder Housing Partners, the housing authority for the city of Boulder (CO) and a fellow with the Affordable Housing Institute. Betsey has a 30 year track record of innovation and collaboration in the affordable housing and community development field. She has testified before Congress, published articles on str

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

Coming.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

The mentoring process helped our idea mature substantially and we have re-thought and re-written every section of this application. Our application has evolved from a housing policy-focused initiative to a parent and child-centered program. Our mentor helped us understand the key elements of early learning and how a stable and safe home contributes to the education of a young child. From that foundation, we were better able to evaluate the opportunities and resources that the housing sector can contribute. Our interaction with other applicants has also shaped our thinking.

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Betsey Martens , what a great initiative! And what an interesting example of working across sectors. Please get in touch with us: ecdan.org, and we would love to learn more about you and see how we can share your lessons across our network! - best, the ECD Action Network

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