The Ounce of Prevention Fund is set to receive $3 million in federal Investing in Innovation grant funds over the next three years for a pilot project to increase the quality of infant-toddler and preschool programs.

The award depends on the Ounce securing $450,000 in private matching funds by Dec. 9. Claire Dunham, senior vice president for programs and training, said the group already has several potential funders, but Dunham declined to identify them until their role is confirmed.

The Ounce is one of 23 recipients of the innovation grants.

The money will help the group train and coach teachers, program directors and family outreach workers at four of CPS’s  Community Partnership Program sites, which are child care centers that receive state Early Childhood Block Grant money and federal Early Head Start and Head Start funding via Chicago Public Schools.

“Our whole thrust here is to figure out how we can help early-childhood settings that have more of a child-care mindset work toward an early learning approach in their practices,” Dunham says. “The idea in our partnership with CPS is to close the gap between the rhetoric and the reality, and actually provide the resources and supports the programs need to make that transition.”

Researchers from the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Urban Education Leadership program will help evaluate the project.

The grant’s first year will focus on birth-to-3 classrooms at the centers. (In general, infants and toddlers suffer more from a shortage of high-quality child care than children of other age groups.) Then, the project will expand to include preschool teachers.

Another key component is working with the programs on students’ transition to kindergarten. That part of the project will be based on an existing initiative that brings together birth-to-5 and K-3 teachers from the Educare early-childhood center and University of Chicago Charter School campuses to discuss common assessments, teaching methods, and parent involvement strategies.

Dunham says she hopes the project will “have legs” given that child care quality is an increasing focus of early education reform efforts, including the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge program.

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