Not all educational institutions have clear plans on how to spend funding in the most effective way--here’s what one nonprofit leader learned during the rapid transition to online learning in the spring

4 ways to get the most out of early childhood funding during distance learning

Not all educational institutions have clear plans on how to spend funding in the most effective way--here’s what one nonprofit leader learned during the rapid transition to distance learning in the spring

COVID-19 is leading to months of learning loss for students across the state of California. So state leaders are providing schools $5.3 billion in funding to try to address the issue moving forward. Much of that money is going to devices, software, and internet access for distance learning. The challenge for education organizations here and across the country is knowing how to deploy available funding to have the biggest effect on teaching and learning.

As the general manager of education, instruction, and operations at nonprofit Neighborhood House Association, I oversaw an urgent and unexpected transition to distance learning last spring. In the case of our children still preparing for kindergarten, we were fortunate enough to have an experienced partner to help us navigate the challenges. After experiencing the process, I learned four key lessons that will benefit schools and districts looking to support distance learning this fall.

Related content: The COVID crisis reminds us that education requires co-creation

Finding like-minded partners

Neighborhood House Association is a 105-year-old nonprofit organization based in San Diego. We operate 26 different social service programs that support children from pregnancy through their senior year of high school. As part of that work, we administer Head Start programs for about 7,000 students at 120 locations around San Diego. We don’t do it alone, though. We have partnerships with school districts, community colleges, childcare providers, and any other organizations committed to the education and welfare of children.

It was through my role as the chairman of the board for the National Head Start Association that came to be one of our most recent partners. This nonprofit provides early learning opportunities to families who are unserved or underserved by traditional high-quality preschool options. Over the years, this organization has partnered with many local Head Start organizations across the country.

As COVID was closing the doors of Head Start programs, childcare centers, and anywhere else students might be gathering to get ready for kindergarten, told us they wanted to help us fill that gap with the Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path. This condensed three-month program would keep children on track to begin kindergarten in the fall, ready.

Offering professional development and family coaching

One big challenge in switching to distance learning is the training. Things were moving so fast at the end of the last school year that we just had to ask our teachers to jump in and start teaching. Honestly, we would have preferred to do more professional development with any new program or approach, but like everyone else in the country, we were forced into the deep end right away.

Professional educators are excellent learners, though, and they’ll figure out how to help students learn in a crisis. The training that proved to be crucial, however, was the family coaching provided.

Our students’ family members are not professional educators, but they were suddenly thrust into the role of being their children’s primary teachers. trained them in logging into the computers and software, if that was needed, and helped families understand how their students should use them. They explained the appropriate amount of time—15 minutes a day, five days a week—and explained what educational progress looks like and how to check in with their students and engage with them about what they’re learning. Each family had a family liaison who checked in weekly to help them overcome any challenges or answer any questions that arose.

A single mother with two kids in school and a preschooler who came to us for help said she really appreciated this aspect of the program. She told me she didn’t feel confident selecting educational content for her children. She mentioned that there are so many opportunities, from programs offered by public libraries to initiatives from schools or other nonprofits, that it was overwhelming for her. She also didn’t know how to engage with her kids on their learning, so the fact that we were able to offer that coaching component for her gave her the confidence to really dig in and stay on top of the program with her child.

Providing access

Another barrier that mother faced was access. She didn’t have enough devices for all three of her children to use during the day. In a pre-COVID world, one device may have been enough for three students’ learning needs, but during a pandemic those devices become an essential learning tool.

Fortunately, provides Chromebooks free to families who need a device. They also provide internet access for families that need it. From conversations with the folks there, I understand that figuring out how to provide access can be quite a challenge. Rural areas and even urban neighborhoods may lack access to providers altogether, necessitating a hotspot rather than a cable connection for some families. Service areas may cover one side of the street but not the other, or end in the middle of one block and pick back up on the next.

Just figuring out who you need to talk to get students home access to the internet can itself be a challenge, and is something to think about early if many of your students will need support in this area.

Getting the word out

Letting our community know that we were ready to support them in this way proved surprisingly difficult. We’re educators, not communications professionals. We’re used to interacting with families every day, but sending out automated calls, marketing on social media, and explaining how this brand new program worked was very different from the work we do as educators.

Fortunately, our partners at were ready with answers to the questions, concerns, and challenges families had about the launch of this new initiative. If you’re going it on your own, you’ll want to look ahead to see where your students’ families are likely to have questions. It might be overwhelming dealing with all that feedback before things even get off the ground, but in our experience, once devices start to roll out, the appreciation starts to roll in.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

INNOVATIONS in K-12 Education


Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.