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Learning Through Innovation: Lessons Gathered From Pennsylvania's Community Innovation Zones

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

The importance of family engagement is supported by research in the field of early childhood education. Some studies have found that quality interactions between young children and their families are associated with significant and long-term cognitive and social-emotional benefits (Weiss, Caspe, & Lopez, 2006). In addition, research suggests that meaningful family engagement in early learning programs supports school readiness and later academic success (Van Voorhis, Maier, Epstein, Lloyd, & Leung, 2013).With this in mind, Pennsylvania has dedicated significant resources to supporting high-quality early learning experiences for children. The Commonwealth recognized the role of families, schools, and communities in these efforts and the potential for innovative and successful strategies that can emerge out of local collaboration and solutions. In 2014, through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Pennsylvania awarded 50 Community Innovation Zone (CIZ) grants. These CIZ grantees were required to have a collaborative team structure that included school district, community, and early childhood representation and had to address three critical tasks, one of which was that of increasing family supports and engagement.

This poster will share findings from an implementation study of the Community Innovation Zones. The goal of the study was to identify innovative and successful local strategies that grantees implemented in their respective communities to support family engagement in early education. The study used qualitative research methods to examine grantees’ experiences implementing the CIZ grants and the strategies they used to partner with and engage families. Study participants included state agency staff working on the CIZ initiative (including administrators and technical assistance providers), grantee and partner agency staff members, and key informants (including state and national experts on family engagement). Purposive sampling was used to select a group of 12 CIZ grantees to participate in interviews and focus groups for the study. The 12 grantees were selected with the goal of creating a sample that was diverse in terms of community setting, geographic region, lead agency, and grant implementation phase. Data were collected for the study at two time points in 2016 and 2017.

The analysis suggested that grantees developed innovative and effective strategies grounded in community context and implemented through partnerships and collaboration. By thoughtfully reflecting on their work, grantees collectively contributed to a deeper understanding of what it takes across community settings and services to create family engagement strategies that build capacity and support children’s success.The findings in this poster are presented within three broad topics: experiences with grant implementation (including themes about local partnerships, peer networks, use of data, and use of resources), on-the-ground work with families (including themes about relationship building, flexibility and persistence, family perspective on family engagement, and cultural responsiveness), and moving forward with family engagement (including themes about sustainability). We present implications and recommendations that build on these findings and are further informed by current understanding from research, policy, and practice. They are presented as practical applications for professionals in the field of early learning, community programs, and state systems.

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