The Donnell-Kay Foundation (DK) aims to improve public education in Colorado through research, policy, creative dialogue, and critical thinking.
Programs & Services
Today’s education system is not designed with the learner in mind. Because of this, many families “opt out” of preschool, instead relying on a loose network of family, friends and neighbors (FFN) to look after young children.
The Donnell-Kay Foundation (DK) worked with us to engage these families, understand the strengths and realities of FFN care, and ultimately create and prototype a new vision for early learning.
We worked closely with a local organization, Boulder Housing Partners, to identify five families whose young children spent their days in informal care environments. Our team “followed the child” from home to care and back again, giving us a unique glimpse into the everyday lives of children, parents and caregivers.
To distill our learnings, we started by making our data tangible, printing out notes, photos and video screenshots. Then we identified all the people and things that make up the ecosystem of family, friend & neighbor care, and jotted down the unmet needs and hidden assets of each person involved.
We presented findings to a room of stakeholders, and led the group in a discussion and brainstorm to generate new ideas that would create a more learner-centered education system.
We quickly turned those ideas into visual prototypes, and brought them back to the same Boulder Housing Partners families for feedback and iteration.
Over the course of 14 weeks, we coached the Donnell-Kay Foundation and Boulder Housing Partners teams through the process of prototyping two concepts: Learning Dollars and Learner Advocates.
At the end of the prototype, the team reflected on an enormous amount of information and distilled it into a set of recommendations for how the program should ultimately be implemented.
Our research presentation clarified goals for creating a new system for Colorado’s early learners. It identified four areas of opportunity—learning, progress, convenience and motivation—with corresponding stories and insights for each.
We created a visually-engaging book—in both English and Spanish—of ten concepts to increase learning in informal childcare. DK used the book to rally support for these potentially game-changing innovations. View the book in English here, and in Spanish here.
Programs One concept, originally called Learning Dollars, was identified as high-potential because it had powerful benefits for children and parents, plus implications for systemic change. The idea was to provide families with both funds and information about educational resources for young children in their area. The client team recruited seven families, hired two Learner Advocates (another concept) and created materials that effectively simulated how the program would work.
Learn more about how our prototype impacted families in this article.
We coached the DK and BHP teams for 14 weeks as they prototyped the “learning opportunities” program. We mapped out a prototyping plan to align the broader team, and our biweekly coaching sessions provided guidance and structure.
This work taught us the power of human-centered design to not only engage people, but empower them.Colleen Broderick
Client & Community Outcomes
Our work built empathy among stakeholders for the tricky balance parents face every day, as well as a new sense of what’s possible. Managing Director Amy Anderson said, “What we are learning is that we don’t necessarily need to wait for a new education system in order to see change. Just the process of user-centered design has already started to shift mindsets and practices, resulting in a ReSchooling spark that will only grow in future years as these ideas gel and become more systematic.”
The Learning Opportunities prototype provided each family with a debit card, with $200 for the first child plus $50 for each additional child. The prototype reached a total of 19 children, who collectively accessed 41 experiences, including swimming lessons, soccer camp, trips to the aquarium, zoo and Butterfly Pavilion, and the purchase of school supplies, backpacks, bicycles and a homework table. These things were always available, yet many parents weren’t accessing them because they were not aware of available discounts, transportation options and the option to stay with your child (many parents feared leaving their children in the care of a stranger).
ReSchool began in 2013 as an initiative of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, but in 2018 ReSchool became its own independent non-profit organization. Our human-centered design work has inspired their current initiatives, including the Learner Advocate Network and the Out of School Landscape. These initiatives are part of a new system of education, designed with today’s learners in mind.