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Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge Finalist Pitches Live

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education today announced the 2018 finalists for its inaugural Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge.

Watch a livestream of the event here, on Monday, June 4, 4 – 6:30 p.m.

The Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge, which launched in January, recognizes promising new ideas and strategic approaches that have the potential to transform the quality of early education and to drive lasting change and improvement.

"The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative seeks to be a leading connector for innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of early education and we couldn’t be more excited and impressed after reviewing the submissions we received for this Challenge," said the co-directors of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones. "We are at a pivotal moment in early education. Preliminary findings from our own first-of-its-kind Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) indicate at least a third of parents cite education and academic skills as their biggest worry for their preschoolers’ futures. Now is the time for creative, collaborative solutions that will increase early education opportunities and positive outcomes for all children."

The finalists were chosen from more than 200 ideas submitted by organizations and individuals from across the country. The majority of applicants identified as early educators and teachers, early education instructional personnel, policy and community organizing groups, edtech and entrepreneur groups, and university-affiliated groups and researchers.

The 16 finalists in the inaugural Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge submitted to one of three different Challenge tracks: Idea, Pilot and Scaling. The finalists are:


  • Seeds of Learning: The New Britain Infant/Toddler Early Childhood Business Incubator —An alternative business model for sustainable, affordable high-quality infant and toddler care for women in poverty.
  • Iterative Development: Using Stakeholder Voice to Create a True-Impact Program Promoting Maternal-Child Attachment in At-Risk Young Mothers — Small-group mother-child psychotherapy sessions that are individualized, adapting to the challenges faced by at-risk mothers.
  • Pin Your Park: An Offtrail Lesson Planning Guide for Educators — An online tool designed to empower educators to bring children of every age to their local parks and green spaces.
  • Building Single Points of Entry that Serve Families and Communities — Designing and building an integrated, online Single Point of Entry (SPE) system that provides families and caregivers with a portal to all child care options and related services in their location.
  • Virtual MOMbile – An interactive app to reach and deliver virtual early childhood education and home visiting services to children and families living in “early learning deserts.”


  • Louisiana Early Childhood Leaders Fellowship — A leadership academy for child care directors.
  • PLAY® Interactive Choice Board (P-ICB) — A high-resolution, interactive classroom touchscreen that involves an avatar teacher-host with text, pictures, and sample videos.
  • The Beautiful Stuff Project — Bringing quality play experiences to all early childhood classrooms with easy-to-use, low cost treasure boxes full of small collectible and reusable items.
  • ESCALERAS — A training model that improves the quality of child care in low-income, underserved communities by bringing family, friend and neighbor child care providers who are English-learners into the mainstream early care and education profession.
  • Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) National Community of Practice — Extending the advocacy and technical assistance activities of The Alliance for Family Friend and Neighbor Child Care to create a FFN National Community of Practice.


  • STE(A)M Truck — A growing fleet of mobile innovation labs filled with tools and talent that helps eliminate inequities in learning opportunities that are often predicted by zip code.
  • Early Childhood Support Organization (ECSO) Initiative — A public-private partnership that provides resources and aligns financial incentives to support better outcomes for children from low-income communities.
  • Leading Men Fellowship Program — Recruiting young men of color to implement evidence-based literacy interventions to help more children become kindergarten-ready and address the systemic shortage of high-quality and diverse early childhood educators.
  • Access to Quality for All: Empowering Early Childhood and PK–12 Stakeholders
  • An interactive tool to explore the local availability of child care across the state of Texas.
  • Leveraging Text Messages to Support Early Childhood Development and Parental Resilience — Delivering caregivers bite-sized and developmentally-targeted text messages drawn from research-based curricula as well as curated content for children from prenatal to five years old.
  • Focus on Early Learning — A model for preK through second grade teaching and learning, aligned around five key instructional practices and curriculum components.

The finalists will present their ideas at a pitch event on June 4, 2018 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. EST, which will also be livestreamed. A live audience and panel of judges will evaluate the pitches and determine the Challenge winners. Judges include Ron Haskins, senior fellow and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution; Junlei Li, professor of psychology and human development and co-director of the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College; Mariela Páez, associate professor at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College; Lisa van der Pool, vice president at InkHouse, a public relations firm in Boston; and Meredith Rowe, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

For more information on the Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge, please visit the FAQ.

About The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) is a major investment to drive transformation in U.S. early childhood education. The Initiative promotes the knowledge, professional learning and collective action necessary to cultivate optimal early learning environments and experiences. The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative is supported by a $35.5 million gift from the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation, one of the largest gifts ever given to a university for advancing early childhood education.

Media Contact

Danielle Laurion
InkHouse (for Harvard)