Sixpence announces Child Care Partnership grants

Sixpence Early Learning Fund - nebraska early childhood education

For the first time ever, the Sixpence Early Learning fund will fund collaborations between school districts and licensed child care providers. These new Child Care Partnership grants will give more of Nebraska’s most vulnerable babies and toddlers access to high-quality early learning experiences, which can help put them on par with their peers when starting kindergarten.

Why does this matter?

Nearly 30,000 infants and toddlers in Nebraska face risk factors that can increase their likelihood of entering school one to two developmental years behind their more advantaged peers. To help these kids keep pace in Nebraska’s classrooms, school districts have committed funding and personnel to early learning, but often with mixed results.


“Right now in Nebraska, only about 8 percent of our at-risk infants and toddlers have access to early learning opportunities we can verify as meeting the quality standards known to close the achievement gap,” said Amy Bornemeier, Associate Vice President of Early Childhood Programs at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and Administrator of the Sixpence Program.  “Schools can’t—and shouldn’t—carry the responsibility all by themselves.  By involving local child care providers in Sixpence partnerships, we’re making better use of the early childhood facilities, personnel and resources already available to us in our communities.”

Sixpence funding represents a commitment to very high-quality early learning. It’s this quality, studies show, that makes the difference for kids starting at a disadvantage. This new stream of funding will empower schools to partner with Child Care providers to offer full-day, year-round services to at-risk families with very young children. Participation in the new Sixpence grants will give local child care providers access to funding, training and expert consultation designed to help them meet the quality requirements expected of Sixpence programs.

Why is this happening?

The grants are the outcome of the passage of LB547 in the Nebraska Unicameral this past spring, which addressed technical restrictions that have prevented licensed child care providers from participating directly in Sixpence partnerships. The legislative effort to make this funding opportunity possible was led by Senator Kathy Campbell, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, and Senator Kate Sullivan, Chair of the Education Committee.

Increased quality standards


Bornemeier says that the new grants will also require child care providers to enroll in Nebraska’s rapidly growing Step Up to Quality rating and improvement system. Step Up to Quality, a collaboration between Nebraska’s Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services, provides training, opportunities for professional development and coaching for participating child care programs and staff. Step Up to Quality also uses rigorous assessments and quantifiable data to improve child care environments, educates parents on how to recognize quality child care settings in their communities and involves them more closely in their children’s early learning experiences.

“By working together, Sixpence and Step Up to Quality make our approach to the early education of our youngest, most vulnerable children more efficient, effective and accountable,” said Bornemeier. “This partnership enables us to maximize our existing resources, gives communities more flexibility to meet the needs of local families, and provides a pathway toward a more robust, professionalized early childhood workforce throughout the state. Most importantly, it reinforces the central role of parents in their children’s early education.”

Grant applications are due by Thursday, January 28, 2016.  View the RFP now on the Sixpence website

About the Sixpence Early Learning Fund

The Sixpence Early Learning Fund is a public-private partnership administered through the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. By investing in the early years, we ensure that children who are at risk in Nebraska have the best opportunity to succeed in school and throughout life. We do this by funding a range of services including home visitation (supporting parents in their role as a child’s first teacher) and center-based services that offer safe, responsive and stimulating environments.

RFP for Connected Youth Initiative grants of up to $150,000 released

Nebraska Children and Families Foundation today released a Request for Proposals (RFP) to communities wishing to apply for a Connected Youth Initiative sub-grant of up to $150,000.

“The purpose of these subgrants is to give communities the financial and technical resources they need to build a system to launch their unconnected youth into successful adulthoods,” said Jennifer Skala, Nebraska Children’s VP of Community Impact. “Each grantee community will work in partnership with Nebraska Children to conduct community planning and build a sustainable system that serves this high-need population.”

Nebraska Children will award between 7 and 10 community grants based on the RFP submissions. Each grant award will be between $100,000 and $150,000, and will require a dollar-for-dollar community match.

“For communities who are ready to make a difference for their unconnected youth, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Skala. “Not only will they get a powerful financial infusion, but we’ll be bringing a proven model that can be customized to the strengths of every community.”

Nebraska Children defines unconnected youth as age 14-24 who have had experience in the foster care or juvenile justice system, or who are homeless or nearly homeless.

“The unconnected young people served by older youth systems are faced with notoriously poor life outcomes,” said Skala. “Many of them will experience homelessness, develop chronic health problems, struggle with addiction, become parents too early or even become incarcerated as adults. These outcomes are not only negative for the young people experiencing them, but are extremely expensive for Nebraska taxpayers.”

Where is this money coming from?

Last week, Nebraska Children announced that it was recipient of a grant called the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) from the Corporation for National and Community Service. This is the first SIF grant awarded to Nebraska. Nebraska Children will use the funds to customize a successful model for addressing the needs of unconnected youth to rural communities who want to better serve this population. This model focuses on young people who have aged out of foster care, are experiencing homelessness, or have been in the juvenile justice system, and prepares them to become independent, contributing adults.

“Nebraska Children is one of three grantees the SIF is backing this year to address inequities in rural services,” said Damian Thorman, director of the Social Innovation Fund. “The SIF award will help drive resources needed to build effective systems of care in remote areas often overlooked by traditional philanthropy. We are proud to support rural Nebraska’s efforts to create supportive communities dedicated to helping struggling teens successfully transition to adulthood.”

Communities wishing to know more can access the RFP and instructions at

Beyond School Bells receives Ron Raikes Innovation for Opportunity Award

Jeff Cole pictured with Coleen Langdon of the Sidney afterschool program

Jeff Cole of Nebraska Children and the Beyond School Bells collaboration were recently selected as the first recipient of the Ron Raikes Innovation for Opportunity Award. The award was given at a statewide ARKSARBEN recognition event at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney on Sunday, August 16.

Beyond School Bells is a network of city-wide Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) programs across Nebraska. This collaboration is housed at Nebraska Children, and believes that learning doesn’t end when the school day does.

The ELO programs work together to provide engaging, high-quality learning experiences in the before-school, after-school and summer hours.

The mission of Beyond School Bells is to improve access to and quality of ELOs by building partnerships, working toward smarter state and local policy, increasing conversations and engaging educators and parents.

In an earlier post on poverty and the achievement gap, Jeff Cole says that schools aren’t the problem, but that’s where most reform efforts focus. “I would argue that these reforms fail because they ignore the proverbial elephant in the classroom – time spent outside of class.”

By focusing on the waking hours that students are outside the class, Beyond School Bells programs are able to provide more active, hands-on learning opportunities and more in-depth experiences than the school day can offer. The result is better classroom behaviors, improved academic achievement and more engaged students.

This award was created in honor of the late State Senator Ron Raikes who served in the Nebraska Unicameral from 1998-2008 and as chairman of the Education Committee for a number of years. Senator Raikes was known for legislation that featured innovative use of Nebraska resources for creating educational opportunities for young people from birth through college. The Raikes Family created the award in Senator Raikes’ honor to recognize individuals or organizations making a difference in closing the opportunity gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged children or youth in Nebraska.

More details on the Connected Youth Initiative

What happened?

The Corporation for National and Community Service has awarded a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant so that the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. The grant will be used to expand a successful model to rural communities across the state to help unconnected youth become contributing, independent citizens.

How much?

$6 million may be invested in rural Nebraska over the next 2 years, with the potential for another $9 million in the following 3 years.

  • $2 million in federal funds ($1 mm/year for 2 years), plus potential for another $3 million ($1 mm/year for the following 3 years)
  • $2 million in private match funds ($1 million per year for 2 years)
  • $2 million in dollar-for-dollar match from grantee communities

Who will be served?

The initiative will serve “unconnected youth” in rural Nebraska communities. Unconnected youth are defined as young people between 14-24 who are currently or have been in the Nebraska foster care system, have had contact with the child protective services, have had contact with the juvenile justice system (but are not on probation), or are homeless or near homeless. Why does this matter? Without community support, unconnected youth are unlikely to reach their full potential. Take a look at the projected outcomes for the 431 foster youth ages 17+ in Greater Nebraska, compared to 431 of their peers not in the system:





Jim Casey Youth Opportunities, a national expert on unconnected youth, estimates that each annual class of young people who age out of care cost Nebraska approximately $90 million over their lifetime in lost tax revenue, criminal justice expenses and public assistance costs. Outcomes are similar for those with juvenile justice experience.

How will the expansion work?

Currently, Nebraska Children has older youth systems in Lincoln, Omaha and the Panhandle. The federal grant funds from SIF and private match funds will pay for staff, planning and implementation costs associated with expansion to greater Nebraska. Nebraska Children has already set up “youth councils” in several communities across the state to determine what youth most need.


Nebraska Children will award 7-10 subgrants of $100,00–150,000 per year for five years to communities wishing to build a Connected Youth Community system. Recipient communities will be required to supply a dollar-for-dollar cash match from public or private community funders. Applications will be available this fall.

By 2020, what will be achieved?

  • 85% of Nebraska Counties will be served
  • 250% increase in youth served
  • Each community will “own” its own initiative, leading to long-term sustainability

About the Connected Youth Community system model

With help from the Project Everlast youth councils and existing community relationships, the new Connected Youth Community systems in rural Nebraska will be youth-driven. Thanks to prior experience and learning, Nebraska Children is in a position to advise on best practices for serving unconnected youth, including:

  • Central access services to help young people navigate services
  • Individual development accounts (IDAs) to encourage saving and teach financial literacy
  • Transitional/voluntary case management services to provide a source of support for unconnected youth
  • Alignment and maximization of existing community services to help youth transition towards self-reliance

The model for the new Connected Youth Community systems is a combination of the Omaha Independent Living Plan (2007) and the Social Services Rural Homeless Youth federal demonstration grant (2009). This model uses a collaborative leadership process to focus on the needs of unconnected youth by aligning current community efforts, developing additional resources, creating an evaluation process, and merging statewide actions into the plan.

What is SIF?

The Corporation for National and Community Service created the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a key White House initiative intended to “create a learning network of organizations working to implement innovative and effective evidence-based solutions to local and national challenges in three priority areas: economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development.” (From

Who is eligible to apply for subgrants?

Nebraska Children is looking for community leaders or nonprofit organizations in rural Nebraska communities that are currently bringing together crosssector collaboratives focused on improving outcomes for unconnected youth. These applicants should be working to create older youth systems that focus on educational and career outcomes, and well being factors such as:

  • Daily needs
  • Transportation
  • Health (mental, physical and dental)
  • Housing
  • Permanency
  • Financial stability

This material is based upon work supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) under agreement number 15SIHNE001. Opinions or points of view expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of, or a position that is endorsed by, CNCS or the Social Innovation Fund.



Nebraska Children and Families Foundation today announced that it will receive a grant from the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) to expand services to unconnected young people in rural Nebraska.

The SIF grant – one of the largest ever given to a single state — comes from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Nebraska Children will use the funds to expand its successful model for addressing the needs of unconnected youth. This model – built a combination of the already successful Social Services for Runaway and Homeless Youth federal demonstration (2009) and the Omaha Independent Living Plan (2007) – focuses on young people who have aged out of foster care, are experiencing homelessness, or have been in the juvenile justice system, and prepares them to become contributing adults.

“The unconnected young people served by our older youth systems are faced with notoriously poor life outcomes,” said Jennifer Skala, Nebraska Children’s Executive Vice President of Community Impact, “Many of them will experience homelessness, develop chronic health problems, struggle with addiction, become parents too early or even become incarcerated as adults. These outcomes are not only negative for the young people experiencing them, but extremely expensive for Nebraska taxpayers.”

The SIF grant itself will provide $1 million dollars per year for both 2015 and 2016, with an anticipated renewal for the following 3 years. This total $5 million in federal funding will be augmented by $5 million, which has already been secured from private supporters, plus another $5 million in match funds from the communities receiving sub-grants. The grand total is an anticipated $15 million to benefit unconnected youth in rural Nebraska.

“Nebraska Children is kicking off a competitive grantee selection process,” Skala said. “We anticipate selecting up to 10 communities in rural Nebraska who want to implement this proven model to serve their unconnected youth.”

View info about the RFP now.CNCS

About Social Innovation Fund (SIF)/Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)

The Social Innovation Fund (SIF) is a powerful approach to transforming lives and communities that uses federal funds to mobilize private resources to find and grow community solutions with evidence of results. CNCS is federal agency that helps more than 5 million Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service. Working hand in hand with local partners, CNCS taps the ingenuity and can-do spirit of the American people to tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation.

Reading and math: Tips for making words and numbers exciting before kindergarten


Language and literacy development

Words are thoughts. The more words your child hears in his first years, the better positioned he will be to understand more advanced concepts in school. This does NOT mean that you need to do word flash cards and worksheets. It means that exposing your child to spoken and written language should be a regular part of your everyday routine. Here’s how:

  • Describe what’s going on – Whether it’s your toddler’s bath or the ball your preschooler is playing with, use words to tell her what’s happening, and ask her to describe things to you.
  • Encourage your child to “use your words” – Instead of pointing at something they want, or whining, let your child know that you’ll be happy to help him if he can tell you what he wants. Give your child the words to communicate their needs. For pre-verbal children, when they make a sound, like “bah”, to indicate what they want, give them the right words as you’re getting what they need (“OK, you want your bottle. Here is your bottle.”)
  • Read, read, read – Make books a part of every day. Even babies benefit from the sound of your voice reading stories and nursery rhymes. They get acquainted with the rhythm of language, the mechanics of reading, and the joy of sharing words with the person they love most. Make books available for children to play with, and let them choose their favorites.
  • Sing – Songs are a great way to learn about sounds, rhyme, rhythm and words. Sing to your child, with your child, and encourage your child to sing to you.
  • Play sound matching games – A twist on “I spy” is to say “I’m looking for something that starts with a B. What in this room begins with a buh sound?”
  • Point out words – While you’re driving, while you’re reading, in the store, point out interesting words to your child and spell them out. “That sign says STOP. S-T-O-P stop.”
  • Drawing and writing – Make sure your child has access to crayons, pencils and paper and encourage drawing and scribbling. This will strengthen the muscles in their for hands when it’s time to start really writing.

Math and science


Number concepts are a delight to children. In fact, basic mathematical concepts are some of the easiest to grasp for preschoolers. Instilling a sense of joy, wonder and accomplishment around math and science early can help carry kids through times when they’re more challenged. Here’s how you can make math and science part of daily learning.

  • Counting songs – Even from a very young age, children benefit from hearing the proper sequence of numbers. Counting songs (like Sally the Camel, One-Two, Buckle My Shoe) give context to the numbers and introduce children to their natural order.
  • Count what you’re doing – When you’re putting strawberries on your child’s plate, or helping her put toys away, count together how many items you’re handling.
  • Describe shapes – Play games that help your child identify shapes. During tidy-up time, ask your child to bring all the items of a particular shape to you.
  • Talk time – Ask about what happened yesterday, what you’re doing today, and what might happen tomorrow. This will help your child develop an understanding of chronology.
  • Make a beach – Supply your child with sand and water toys to explore texture, liquid, solid and mixing.
  • Get outside – Give your child access to nature so she can observe what’s happening in the outside world. Describe things that you see (“Look, that bird is bringing food back to her nest to feed her babies” or “That grass has grown so much that it is making seeds.”)
  • Cook together – Though meal prep time can be a very busy time, let your child help on occasion. Preschoolers can measure out ingredients, help time things, and mix ingredients together. Cooking is a wonderful hands-on way to put science and math in to action!

Want to know more about Kindergarten readiness in Nebraska? Download the eBook.


Day one of kindergarten: getting excited and prepared

As the first day of kindergarten approaches, your child may be nervous, excited, afraid or feeling all of these emotions. And that’s OK! Helping your child feel excited and prepared for kindergarten makes the first day easier for him and for you. Here are some ways to get ready for day one from the Nebraska Department of Education:

  • Talk with your childcare provider about adjusting your current routine (such as naptime) to help prepare your child for the new daily schedule.
  • Read books about kindergarten and encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings. • Participate in school open houses and information meetings. Help your child feel more comfortable and confident by knowing what will happen, where things are, whom she knows, and what to look forward to.
  • Meet with your child’s teacher, especially if you feel your child may need individual attention or support.
  • Start a new bed time and morning routine a few days before school starts. A routine will help your child get the 10-12 hours of sleep needed.
  • Talk with your child about what you will each do on that first day. Consider sending a small visual reminder, such as a family photo to provide comfort.
  • Arrive at school early to give your child time to settle in. Remind your child about your plans for the end of the school day. Give a reassuring, cheerful, and short good-bye.

Books to help your child get ready for kindergarten

These books are recommended by the Nebraska Department of Education to help you get your child ready for and excited about their first day of kindergarten.

Want to know more about Kindergarten readiness in Nebraska? Download the eBook.


Real readiness: Social-emotional development and success in school

Social and emotional skills –not academic skills– are most predictive of success in kindergarten.

When a 5-year-old enters kindergarten, she’ll be best positioned for success if she can sit and listen to the teacher, get along with other students, keep her emotions in check and feel confident that she can handle whatever comes her way. Here are some ways you can make sure your child is socially and emotionally ready to handle kindergarten.

Let’s get excited!

Help your child get enthusiastic about kindergarten and confident that she’ll be able to succeed there. If you’re excited, it will be hard for your child not to be.

  • Play pretend games where your child is the student and you’re the teacher
  • Visit the school with your child before the first day
  • Listen to your child’s thoughts, fears and ideas about kindergarten
  • Read books about kindergarten

Practice makes perfect.

Working on some of the important skills your child will need in kindergarten can help him feel more confident about success.

  • Teach your child to follow directions by giving simple steps.
  • Give your child the opportunity to practice waiting in line, taking turns, playing and sharing with other children and sitting in a circle.
  • Work on fun puzzles and games that present a bit of a challenge to your child. Talk about how challenges are fun and celebrate your child’s persistence and small victories along the way.
  • Talk to your child about the difference between feelings and actions. Repeat often that it’s OK to feel mad, sad or frustrated, but it’s not OK to hit, kick, or throw a tantrum. Give your child ideas for appropriate actions when they’re feeling mad, sad or frustrated.
  • Work with your child on using words to describe her feelings, instead of taking an inappropriate action.

Get along, little doggie.

Getting along with classmates and making friends is one of the best parts of kindergarten. By helping your child develop the skills they need to have positive relationships in kindergarten will help them feel more excited and confident.

  • Show your child ways to approach others and make new friends.
  • Talk about how your child can be friends with children who may look or speak differently.
  • Teach your child what to do when someone hurts his feelings.
  • Discuss what it is to be a good friend – sharing, caring, and being gentle.
  • Let your child talk about things they’re interested in, and teach them how to listen when others talk about what they’re interested in.
  • Teach your child to know when it’s his turn to speak, and when it’s time to listen

Want to know more about Kindergarten readiness in Nebraska? Download the eBook.


Choosing a high-quality preschool program in Nebraska


If your child is already in a care setting that has a preschool program that you like, that’s great news. For many Nebraska families, however, their 3- and 4-year-olds will be starting preschool after being in a home-based setting. For those looking for the right preschool, it’s important to know the terms that preschools use in order to choose the approach that’s right for your child and family, as well as reliable indicators of quality.


No one knows your child better than you do. Take time to familiarize yourself with some of the terms used to describe preschool programs. Check out this list of terms from Get Ready to Read.

  • Child-centered – This term is often used to describe settings that take the children’s interests into consideration when planning activities. For example: in a child-centered setting, the classroom activities are based on the interests of the students, not on pre-scheduled topics chosen by the teacher. These settings often offer increased opportunities for children to choose activities throughout the day depending on their interests.
  • Teacher-led – The opposite of a child-centered setting is a teacher-led setting. Teacher-led often means that curriculum and supplemental activities are implemented based on a set schedule developed by the teachers in the setting. This type of setting usually provides children with a structured learning environment.
  • Child-led – These settings believe children learn best when they are engaged and interested in learning. Child-led settings wait for each child to initiate or ask for new activities and experiences, fostering individualized learning experiences rather than group experiences.
  • Faith-based – This term is used to describe preschool programs that are run through faith organizations such as churches or synagogues, according to their faith’s philosophies. Nebraska Children and Families Foundation
  • Co-operative – These settings often ask parents and families to assist in the running of the preschool. Parents and family members may build community by signing up to volunteer during the week, or by assisting in the day-to-day management of the preschool as well as helping with advertising, upkeep and fundraising.

Quality indicators

  • Developmentally Appropriate – This term means the preschool plans the curriculum and activities based on activities that are appropriate for the age of the children in the class.
  • Pre-kindergarten (pre-K) – Sometimes this term is used interchangeably with preschool. In general, a pre-K program is one that has children enrolled in the year before kindergarten, usually at age four. These settings are often more structured than traditional preschools.
  • Licensed – Preschools and child care centers that are licensed meet the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ standards to be considered a child care/preschool facility. Licensing is not at all an indicator of quality, just that the facility has legal permission to call itself a preschool or child care facility. There are four types of licensing:
    • Provisional or Operating Family Child Care Home I – up to 10 children, one provider, in the provider’s home
    • Provisional or Operating Family Child Care Home II – up to 12 children, two providers, either in the primary provider’s home Or in a separate building
    • Provisional or Operating Child Care Center – 0ver 12 children, provider-child ratio determined by ages of children
    • Provisional or Operating Preschool – primarily an educational setting
  • Accredited – Child care centers and preschools can choose to get accredited by an accrediting organization. This means they have to meet higher standards than licensing rules. The program must offer the kind of care, attention, and educational activities parents look for in quality child care programs. It must offer activities and experiences that will aid in a child’s growth and development, and that will help them prepare for school. Accrediting agencies include:

Once you know what you’re comfortable with in terms of approach and quality, it’s time to build your short list.

Decide who you want to consider based on the criteria that’s most important to you. What programs do friends that you trust recommend? What reviews are you seeing online? Who has an educational philosophy that matches what you’re looking for? Who’s close to your home or work? Who’s high quality AND still in your price range?

Finally, see for yourself.

Once you have your short list, make appointments to visit the programs you’re considering. Seeing really is believing. When you’re visiting programs, ask yourself if you could see your child fitting in there. If your culture will be honored. If the children seem happy and engaged. Stay and observe as long as you need to. Some questions to keep in mind on your visit include:

  • What is the turnover rate for staff members?
  • What percentage of the staff hold degrees in early childhood?
  • How does the setting handle discipline?
  • What are the safety procedures for picking up and dropping off children?
  • Is the setting accredited?
  • What are the payment options and procedures?

If you’d like a more structured approach to selecting the right preschool, consider this checklist from PTA and Pre-K Now.

Want to know more about Kindergarten readiness in Nebraska? Download the eBook.


Nebraska Children receives 4-Star rating from Charity Navigator


Charity Navigator, America’s premier charity evaluator, has just awarded Nebraska Children and Families Foundation 4 out of 4 stars for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency.

“We are proud to announce Nebraska Children and Families Foundation has earned our second consecutive 4-star rating,” writes  Pat Dugan, Charity Navigator’s founder and board chair. “Receiving four out of a possible four stars indicates that your organization adheres to good governance and other best practices . . . and consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way.”

According to Charity Navigator, only 20% of the organizations they review have received at least two consecutive 4 star evaluations.

“This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Nebraska Children from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust,” writes Dugan.

View Nebraska Children’s full Charity Navigator profile now.

Nebraska Children is proud of this designation, and will continue making the greatest impact possible for the most vulnerable in our state through solid financial practices and open information sharing with our donors and our partner communities.

If you’re ready to become part of our family of donors, visit our donation page now.

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