I’ve witnessed remarkable changes in the early care and learning field in my role as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Director for the Community Innovation and Resilience for Care and Learning Equity (CIRCLE) Grant Program. This grant was funded by federal stimulus dollars and administered by Early Milestones Colorado in partnership with the Colorado Department of Early Childhood.
As a former early learning educator in an urban school district, the transition to working at a nonprofit was both exciting and challenging. While supporting 218 grantees, I witnessed how the CIRCLE grants elevated the voices of early childhood stakeholders across the state. Their efforts created innovative and equity-driven solutions to problems worsened by the pandemic. Specifically, the $22.5 million in funding that was distributed to support projects in every Colorado county reached:
- 120,000+ parents or caregivers
- 75,000 children from birth to kindergarten-age
- 19,000 early childhood professionals
- 20,000 infants and toddlers
- 2,000+ dual language learners
- 1,000+ immigrant and refugee families
Early Milestones Provided Ongoing Support for Grantees
The reach and impact of the CIRCLE Grant Program were achieved by ensuring that equity and innovation were at the core of the grants. Early Milestones supported applicants through virtual bilingual office hours, video tutorials about the program and application, and three rounds of requests for proposals. Such support ensured grantees had equitable opportunities to access funding.
Grantees also worked with a dedicated project manager for the duration of the grant period. Additionally, although CIRCLE grants were cost-reimbursable due to being federal funding, Early Milestones knew that would be a challenge for many grantees. We worked with the Colorado Department of Early Childhood to get a waiver allowing for a partial advance of funding to grantees to ease their financial burden as they took on their new work.
As part of the program, grantees participated in eight learning communities. These communities connected grantees and allowed them space to share project experiences. Grantees were also invited to eight support webinars covering topics such as the grant reimbursement process, equity-driven early childhood policies and practices, and grant writing support, to name a few.
As a result of this direct support, grantees shared the impact of the technical assistance we provided, such as increased confidence in participating in grant funding in the future:
“I think your team has done a great job anticipating the uncertainties of managing a grant. I attend the learning communities and hear questions I would have asked before I had any grant management experience. I think the level of support you’re offering to providers who might be smaller than a school district is phenomenal. So, thank you and your team for really understanding that early care and learning providers [have] varying experiences with grants and tailoring your approach to provide that needed support!” – CIRCLE Grantee, Lake County
“I’ve been a part of a lot of grants [and] this group of CIRCLE grantees and project managers is the most encouraging and thoughtful and positive group I’ve ever worked with. It’s not typical of how grants and projects are done. It’s usually more like ‘Just give me your numbers.’ Encouragement from project managers and other grantees [was] great.” – CIRCLE Grantee, El Paso County
An Opportunity for Community-Led Solutions to Child Care Challenges
The CIRCLE Grant Program shows the power of communities as well as their ability to be creative, collaborative, and innovative. This flexibility allowed them to create solutions to overcome challenges in early care and learning. As our team reviewed applications, I was inspired by the ingenuity and passion of the ideas that the grantees described. Each sought to realize ideas to address specific challenges in early care. When our team later traveled around the state to meet with the grantees, I was impressed by their accomplishments in such a short amount of time.
Born and raised in Denver, I had never stepped out of the metro area to explore the numerous rural and frontier communities in our state. The CIRCLE Grant Program funded 64 projects in these areas alone. Meeting grantees in these communities helped me to understand how impactful this funding was. It increased access to early care and learning opportunities, spurred creative solutions for providing early intervention and special education services to children with disabilities, improved dual-language services and learning, and broadened DEI practices in early care and learning settings. During our travels, we learned about the positive impact of individualized support on children with disabilities in Montezuma County. In Garfield County, early childhood professionals expanded their culturally responsive mobile preschool service hours to Latine families.
CIRCLE Grantees Accomplished Much in a Short Amount of Time
Each CIRCLE project brings a unique lens and context to the greater puzzle that makes up Colorado’s early childhood ecosystem. Having had the opportunity to see a few of these projects in person was a transformative experience. In this blog post, I only begin to scratch the surface of what CIRCLE grantees accomplished in one year and the lasting impacts they made in their respective communities.
The grantees’ work is truly best described by them, and I encourage you to learn more by viewing 18 CIRCLE Grantee Innovation and Equity Profiles. These profiles describe how equity and innovation drove progress toward solving specific challenges grantees wanted to address. One thing is certain: the early childhood landscape in the state has been reenergized by the progress CIRCLE grantees made in such a short time. We’ll be seeing the ripple effects of the CIRCLE Grant Program for a long time.
Equity and innovation were at the heart of the CIRCLE Grant Program.
Grantees were supported through learning communities, webinars, technical assistance, and more. Such supports increased their confidence in obtaining future funding.
CIRCLE funding increased opportunities for early childhood stakeholders and allowed them to implement creative solutions.