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Focus Grant 2022: Creating the Wood River Valley Early Learning Collaborative

On March 23, 2022, WRWF announced that the winner of the first-ever Focus Grant was the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (Idaho AEYC). WRWF and Idaho AEYC will partner to establish the Wood River Valley Early Learning Collaborative. The purpose of the Early Learning Collaborative is to create an early education community for all young children, especially those from underserved families. 

Research shows the early years are a time of remarkable brain growth in children and lay the foundation for subsequent learning and development. Up-front investments in quality care and early education translate into direct returns for the State, our communities and society as a whole. The Idaho AEYC is the only organization in the state whose mission focuses on creating high-quality childcare and preschool programs that are accessible to all who need them. In 19 other communities, the Idaho AEYC has successfully mobilized and amplified local resources and talent to achieve transformational results in early children’s learning opportunities. 

“Idaho AEYC respects and recognizes that each community’s early education needs and challenges are unique across the state,” said Beth Oppenheimer, Executive Director, Idaho AEYC. “The program development process—overseen by an Early Learning Advisory Council—involves diverse stakeholders who have a role in early childhood education and childcare. We are thrilled to partner with WRWF on taking the initiative to focus on this critical need in Blaine County.”  

“Up to 45 percent of the Blaine County student body is of Hispanic origin and 23 percent of those students are emergent English speakers, meaning they have very little English when they enter school,” said Louisa Moats, WRWF Focus Grant 2022 Co-Chair and nationally recognized early learning and education expert. “According to the State’s classification system, 69 percent of White students in Blaine County are proficient in reading between kindergarten and 3rd grade, but only 33 percent of the Hispanic/Latino Spanish-speaking students meet those standards. Not only is the difference in Blaine County striking, it is most likely preventable.” 

Idaho AEYC’s strategy during the first two years is four-fold: 

  • First, convene an early learning advisory committee from various key stakeholder groups including the Blaine County School District, childcare centers, teachers, families, health care professionals, businesses, nonprofits and trusted leaders in the Hispanic community; 
  • Next, gather and report data on existing services, such as the difference between needed and available services, the reasons why families do or do not have access to support or preschools and more; 
  • Third, use the needs assessment to bolster successful programs and formulate a strategic action plan for future program development; and,
  • Fourth, promote best practices to support transitions between early childhood and K-12 schools.

In recognition of its work throughout the state, Idaho AEYC,  along with WRWF, received a proclamation from Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw to coincide with the Week of the Young Child™.  This is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest early childhood education association, with nearly 80,000 members and a network of over 300 local, state, and regional Affiliates.

ABOUT IDAHO AEYC                                                                                                                                             

Since 2019, Idaho AEYC has been working with communities across Idaho to build a connective system of high-quality, early learning opportunities for Idaho’s youngest learners. Using a local collaborative model, leaders and stakeholders are coming together to improve access and affordability to quality care and early education to ensure our children are school-ready. 

Supporting families and children means doing our part. Across Idaho, families struggle to afford and/or access early learning opportunities. The Early Learning Collaboratives, locally created and community-led, aim to address this issue by supporting communities by creating a governing body to support the early learning system, focusing on the whole child, whole family, and whole community approach.


During 2019 and 2020, the WRWF Grants Committee leadership and dozens of team members took a deep dive into evaluating our grant-making process. Their work included collecting and discussing member input, researching best practices for collective giving, examining funding impacts, identifying community needs and more.

In large part these efforts were initiated by results from the WRWF member survey conducted in 2018, in which members made a few things clear:

  • 78% supported the idea of multi-year grants
  • 60% supported large scale grants (more than $50,000)
  • 80% supported or were open to the idea of making grants to fund a pressing community need
  • 87% supported sustainability grants

One of the resulting policy changes proposed by the team and approved by the Board, combined these elements into one new initiative: a multi-year, large-scale grant that focuses on an area of pressing community need.

Beginning in the 2022 grant cycle, WRWF awarded one issue-based, two-year grant of up to $200,000. The Focus Grant allows us to invest $100,000 per year for two years in an area of acute and persistent need in Blaine County to “move the needle” at a level we have yet to achieve. 

A Task Force was formed to (1) study potential areas of focus for this grant, and (2) recommend an implementation process to include a vote of the membership on both the area of focus as well as the final grant award. In April 2021, the WRWF membership selected “Closing the Opportunity Gap in Education” as its first-ever Focus Grant topic.

The Focus Grant Task Force is co-chaired by Louisa Moats and Laura Midgley. 

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