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Friends Center for Children

We are a model for doing what many say cannot be done: Provide Ideal Early Learning to Children from ALL Walks of Life

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Name or Organization

Friends Center for Children


New Haven, CT USA

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • 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 your submission in one clear sentence

Friends Center aims to facilitate a collaborative effort that allows for ALL children to have access to quality early education via public and private facilities, in New Haven, CT.

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

As Friends Center for Children grows, we continue to see a need for quality early childhood education in New Haven, Connecticut. In Connecticut lies our country's largest achievement gap. Within that gap, a disproportionate amount of African American and Hispanic children do not have equal access to quality care. We aim to facilitate a network that encourages children, families and the community to grow stronger together throughout home day cares, private facilities, and public schools alike.

Select an Innovation Target

  • System design: Solutions that target changing larger systems.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

We see learning through the lens of an emergent curriculum. We believe that strengthening relations set secure brain neural pathways which encourage positive growth cycles. This allows for secure attachments and an enhanced capacity to learn. We believe that children are learning partners with educators, families, and peers. We define this as Ideal Learning, where we educate with children, not to children. In addition to learning with students, we look at the ramification of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress. Trauma-informed care is seamlessly provided through our personalized approach to early learning—reducing stigma and increasing success. Our desire is to create an ideal learning district in the city of New Haven, where families are empowered, and children have access to culturally reflective teaching practices. Friends Center is working with local and national collaborative efforts that will allow for ALL children to have access to quality early education through an ideal learning network. This initiative is called the New Haven Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD) that is comprised of It is research driven, need based, community led, and place-based. Given the close parallel between the demographics of New Haven and other urban areas in the U.S., there is tremendous potential to create a pilot program that can be nationally replicated.

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

In New Haven, there are over 2,000 children without access to quality early childhood care. We envision a city where all children have access to quality care. Our goal is to help children, families and the community grow stronger together.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

New Haven is a tale of two cities, with Yale University in its center and some of the most vulnerable populations living in and around the surrounding neighborhoods. While the college town is unique, the social and economic conditions are not dramatically different from those in Connecticut’s other major cities, and in fact are very similar to other major metropolitan areas nationwide. While great opportunity exists, those who need it most have the least access. Connecticut has the highest achievement gap in the country. But, research has shown that thoughtful early investment in quality early care and education, followed by consistent high-quality early elementary education, can have lasting positive outcomes on children. A recent study by the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network demonstrated that “higher quality care [in early childhood] predicted higher cognitive-academic achievement at age 15, with escalating positive effects at higher levels of quality.” high-quality early care can close early gaps in both cognitive and non-cognitive skills between children of varying socioeconomic statuses when they are still small. Follow-up studies overwhelmingly show long-term health and economic benefits. These include higher rates of high school graduation and reduced rates of heart and metabolic disease, adolescent pregnancy, and incarceration. At Friends Center We are working to reshape the narrative for New Haven’s youngest children from obstacles to opportunities. We offer a sliding scale at our school. In addition, we have taken steps to create an emotional wellbeing program, as our population faces a high number of adverse childhood experiences. Trauma-informed care is seamlessly provided through our personalized approach to early learning—reducing stigma and increasing success. Our model educates with children, and not at them. They are learning partners with teachers, peers, family and community. The New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD) is our effort to bring Ideal Learning to all children in New Haven through public, private and home care providers. We are partnering with New Haven Public Schools, All Our Kin, local providers offering in-home care, local nonprofits, foundations and policymakers to improve the quality of existing early care and education options and expand access to the programs we know work best for children. We propose to revolutionize the early care and education landscape in New Haven, Connecticut by bringing the community together around a common vision of Ideal Learning. Our goal is to provide quality early care and education experiences for all children ages zero to eight. We’re committed to elevating all programs that provide ideal early learning experiences for all children and families.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

While it is easy to focus on our school community, we have a social responsibility to look at our larger community at hand. Nearly 2,000 children under age five in New Haven lack access to quality early care and education, contributing to the largest achievement gap in the country. The New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD) is our effort to bring Ideal Learning to all children in New Haven through public, private and home care providers. Beneficiaries include, children, their families, educators, and the community at large. At Friends Center, we work with families, not “at them.” Rather than asking them to support us, we support their goals for their children. Strong bonds are built between school and home by bringing parents into the learning experience every day. Families from very different backgrounds learn about and from each other—and all of us learn how to move each child forward. When we are able to empower families, they are in turn more likely to become involved with their communities.

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

New Haven is confronted by persistent violence and instability. According to the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven’s 2016 report, the number one leading cause of death for New Haven young men ages 15-39 is assault with a gun. High violence and poverty rates increase the likelihood that New Haven’s youngest children will be exposed to multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) which interfere with an ability to function well in school. Moreover, research shows that children exposed to multiple ACEs are two times more likely to smoke cigarettes, four and a half times more likely to do drugs, seven times more likely to be alcoholic, eleven times more likely to use intravenous drugs, and nineteen more times likely to attempt suicide as they move into adolescence and adulthood. As we are a flagship school of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, our training provides our teachers, families, and community members with skills to navigate traumatic experiences. Our teachers have the ability to recognize when students are experience traumatic experiences, and are able to refer families to our emotional wellbeing coordinator. We aim to include this model into the Ideal Learning District.

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

New Haven’s significant poverty rate poses a challenge for families to access high quality early care and education. The child poverty rate in New Haven is currently 27%. Along racial lines, the poverty rate is 39% for African Americans, 38% for Hispanic or Latinos, and 20% for Caucasians. Further, an 1 analysis of the child poverty rate by race indicates that African-American and Hispanic children are disproportionately impacted by poverty. When we are able to help New Haven facilitate an Ideal Learning District, that is embraced by its early care and education community, it can work to close the achievement gap for its youngest children. Thus, creating more capacity and opportunity for socio-economic mobility, and a higher quality of life.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

The concept is innovative as it seeks to create a coalition of progressive early childhood education schools and organizations, along with public and private streams of income. Furthermore, we put children as the focal point of Early Childhood Education. Ideal Learning assumes that children best achieve their potential through learning that activates their interests, abilities, and talents to build knowledge, know-how, and confidence. Not all Ideal Learning providers nurture children the exact same way, but they do have the same basic approach to helping young children develop their potential. Our Quaker values help to facilitate a framework for collaboration. This project allows us to share our social and emotional progress with the rest of our community. We are committed to elevating all programs that provide ideal early learning experiences for children and families—not just the Friends Center curriculum. We will be able to share a developmental curriculum that serves all children well, regardless of their socio-economic status.

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

With approximately 2,000 children without access to quality early childhood education, we would be able to empower thousands of families. Additionally, our model has the potential to be replicated around the country.

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

Although we hope to facilitate access for 2,000 children it is important to provide the supports necessary to improve the quality of existing and new programs, including those in the private sector and those run by New Haven Public Schools. Early care and education programs need to adhere to standards aligned with the Ideal Learning philosophy and approach in order to translate to positive long-term outcomes for children. Based on our preliminary research we propose providing professional learning supports to educators and providers across the community in order to bridge the divide that exists as children transition from one level of care to the next and foster a common language and set of practices across the continuum of care. At the same time, targeted supports to meet the specific needs of infant and toddler home care providers, pre-K to second grade providers, and preschool educators are also needed. We will seek to identify existing efforts that are making a positive impact and bolster those initiatives. Finally, in order to comply with new educational requirements that require preschool teachers to have a Bachelor’s degree by 2020, we will build degree-granting satellite programs aligned to Ideal Learning for preschool teachers. Our ideas on contingent upon the continued support of local government, the New Haven Public School System, and private daycare providers.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Our business model has great potential to succeed on the market, as it is a collaboration of both private and public education sectors.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

Ideal learning starts at birth and puts the child at the center of the design. It supports children in all aspects of their development and deepens and accelerates academic learning through direct experiences with their community. It also transforms home and daycare settings and classrooms into exciting places where children learn by exploring the wonder of the world around them. Ideal Learning helps children learn to think for themselves and with others, better positioning them to positively engage as citizens in a rapidly changing world. With a fundamental understanding of human centered design in our program, we hope aim to continue building and refining our concept through community conversations with families, in addition to collecting and analyzing and ethnographic data.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

The inspiration of this idea comes from our Executive Director, Allyx Schiavone, a dedicated advocate for early childhood education. Her passion drives us to ensure that every family in our space is treated with kindness and dignity. Working in an early childhood space is intriguing as is lays the foundation for what is possible in future generations. The inquisitive nature and raw happiness of children inspire us every day.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

We are currently in partnership with the 8 partners who practice ideal learning in their institutions.

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)

We hope to become more acquainted with pro-bono attorneys who can help us navigate a coalition of non-profits to carry out a singular mission.

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).

Allyx Schiavone Executive Director, Friends Center for Children Fellow, Community Leadership Program Member, New Haven Early Childhood Council Member, School Readiness Provider Allyx has served as the director of Friends Center for Children since 2009. She has an extensive background in early childhood development and elementary education – as a teacher and administrator in CT and NY. She holds dual Masters’ degrees from Bank Street College of Education in Early Child Development.

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

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