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Zaentz Early Education Initiative Announces 2019 Innovation Challenge Finalists

The 15 finalists with cutting-edge ideas to advance quality in early education will pitch their plans on October 15, 2019 at 4 p.m.

This event will be live-streamed beginning at 4 p.m.

The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education today announced the finalists for its 2019 Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge. In its second year, the Challenge recognizes promising new ideas and strategic approaches that have the potential to accelerate positive change and transform the quality of early education.

"We launched the first-ever Zaentz Innovation Challenge in 2018 and were so inspired by the number of applications we received as well as the commitment to the field that this reflected. After reviewing the submissions for this year's Challenge, we are truly excited to announce the 2019 finalists," said the co-directors of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones. "Decades of research, including some of our own through the Zaentz Initiative, show that parents and caregivers worry a great deal about getting children off to a strong start, and, as a nation, we look to the younger generation for a bright, bold future. There is an urgent need for new solutions and tools that will increase early education opportunities and positive outcomes for all children. This is the motivation behind the Zaentz Innovation Challenge — to seed the field with cutting-edge ideas that have the capacity to drive lasting, widespread change in early education."

The finalists were chosen from more than 160 ideas submitted by organizations and individuals from around the world. The majority of applications came from individuals and teams affiliated with early learning centers and schools, state and local early education agencies, education nonprofits, policy and advocacy organizations, edtech entrepreneurship, and universities.

The 15 finalists in the 2019 Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge submitted to one of three different Challenge tracks: Idea, Pilot, and Scaling. These finalists are:


  • 2Gen Includes Men: Supporting Baltimore City Children and Their Fathers Through the Power of Play — A two-generation program at Baltimore's Port Discovery Children's Museum that actively engages low-income fathers and their young children through regular and ongoing playful learning experiences, including monthly father-child parenting and play workshops, events, and activities. (Maryland)
  • Early Learning Centralized Float Pool Application — A first-to-market digital staffing application designed to build short-term and part-time workforce capacity while also offering unusual suspects the chance to enter the early childhood education field. (Indiana)
  • Flourish in Frazer Forest — Bringing inclusive early learning experiences outdoors through a project-based forest learning curriculum. (Georgia)
  • Strong Families, Mighty South Ward Loyalty Program — An innovative loyalty program designed to motivate and reward Newark families for continual use of the high-quality two-generation resources in their community. (New Jersey)
  • ToyLend: A Library for Play — A community-based library of playthings that supports children's healthy development through play. (New York)


  • Creating a Deliberately Developmental School Culture — Using research-based tools, interactive retreats, and one-on-one coaching to help early education leaders build a deliberately developmental school culture that supports teacher growth and results in higher quality programs for children. (Massachusetts)
  • The QuickCheck® — A simple tech tool that breaks down teacher professional learning curricula into manageable strategies, helping teachers build their skills and become fluent in effective classroom practices. (California)
  • SayKid — A screen-less, play-based learning tool that uses voice technology in the form of a plush robot to help kids learn in a safe, natural, and engaging way. (Minnesota)
  • Telepractice Services for Communication Disorders at West Liberty University — Creating a telehealth suite within a university clinic setting to ensure children and families across rural West Virginia have access to high-quality speech, language and hearing services. (West Virginia)
  • Building the Muscle: Arts Integration Professional Learning for Early Educators — Giving early childhood educators the tools and confidence to support children's learning through the arts. (Missouri)


  • Healthy Apple Program — Pairing early educators with peer mentors to coach them on best practices for nutrition and physical activity, empowering educators to promote and establish lifelong healthy habits for all children in their care. (California)
  • We Care for Dane Kids — A set of four interdependent, innovative strategies to transform the child care system by increasing the supply of child care, maximizing funding to pay for care, and creating efficiencies of scale for child care programs through a shared services network. (Wisconsin)
  • FASTalk — An evidence-based tool that helps teachers engage diverse families and improve student outcomes through curriculum-aligned text messages delivered in families' home languages and two-way parent-teacher messaging with automated translation. (California)
  • Connected for Success — Creating a unified statewide framework in Mississippi to improve care and access to services for both children and their families across the state's mixed delivery system. (Mississippi)
  • Shared Services for Providers — A "partnership, not product" approach designed to help child care providers efficiently manage their business and improve quality for the children and families in their care. (Colorado)

The finalists will pitch their ideas and plans at an event on October 15, 2019 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. ET, which will also be livestreamed here. A panel of judges and a live audience will evaluate the pitches and determine the Challenge winners. Judges include Lynette Fraga, Executive Director of Child Care Aware of America, Rick Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer on Education and Faculty Director of the Human Development and Psychology Master's Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Lisa van der Pool, Vice President at InkHouse, a public relations firm just outside of Boston, Mass., Enyi Okebugwu, Education Initiative Analyst at Omidyar Network, and Chuck Carter, Senior Evidence Director at Project Evident.

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