This year’s winners have dedicated their careers to tackling the problems they are passionate about.
September 25, 2019
The Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership recognizes Teach For America alumni whose work has led to significant progress toward educational equity and excellence in the last year. Named as a tribute to the late journalist Peter Jennings, the award honors the efforts of alums who are working to address complex systemic issues impacting education.
Award winners over the years have represented a wide range of fields that impact education, including school leaders, social entrepreneurs, community organizers, and elected officials.
This year’s Peter Jennings Award recognizes Janna Wagner (New York ‘95) for founding and leading the nonprofit All Our Kin, along with Sammy Politziner (New York ‘99), for his role in supporting the organization.
Building High-Quality Family Child Care Programs
When the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (commonly known as “welfare reform”) was passed in the late 1990s, it meant that many low-income mothers were required to enter the workforce. As a result, many faced a dual challenge of finding a good-paying job outside of the home, as well as finding affordable, high-quality child care.
Janna Wagner, along with her co-founder Jessica Sager, launched All Our Kin in 1999 as a way to address both problems with a single solution. The nonprofit provides training, coaching, and licensure support for mothers of young children to run their own home-based child-care programs. In addition to providing working mothers with economic stability, the organization also helps increase the quality, availability, and sustainability of early education opportunities available to children in Connecticut and New York City.
Janna, a New Haven native, says the idea for the organization brought together multiple issues that she is passionate about.
“It addressed educational equity, New Haven, feminism, and women’s rights–this idea that all women should have the ability to make decisions about their family and how they wanted to spend their time,” Janna says. “It helps women create businesses that develop wealth, and gives people the opportunity for quality child care in their own neighborhoods.”
All Our Kin works closely with family child care educators who care deeply about early childhood education but may not have any formal instructional training. The organization helps providers develop age-appropriate learning activities that are based on play and discovery, and social-emotional skills to prepare children to enter kindergarten.
Additionally, family child care educators receive training on how to run an effective business, manage employees and finances, and grow their business.
Partnering to Make Good Work Sustainable
For more than two decades, Janna and Jessica have taken a thoughtful approach to growing the organization, which now serves the New Haven, Bridgeport, Danbury, and Stamford communities in Connecticut, as well as the Bronx in New York City. Staffers spend a year studying the community landscape to determine whether there is a need for their services and to make sure they are complementing, rather than competing with, other community-based supports already in place.
The organization has been able to scale its efforts with the help of Sammy Politziner, a 1999 Teach For America New York alum who co-leads Arbor Brothers, a philanthropic organization focused on supporting education and workforce development nonprofits. As an Arbor Brothers grantee since 2011, All Our Kin has received over $400,000 in grants, along with ongoing consulting on how to strengthen and grow its operations, measure outcomes, and remain sustainable.
“In terms of why we are attracted to the All Our Kin model, it’s a true triple play,” Sammy says. “There are positive outcomes for children, whom we care about a lot. There are also economic outcomes for the family child care providers. Their incomes increase significantly. And then there are outcomes for families as well, as parents are able to work.”
All Our Kin’s founders have worked closely with family child care educators to evolve the All Our Kin model to meet the needs of the community, making significant shifts along the way to ensure the program is as effective as possible. Studies have shown that the nonprofit’s work is resulting in positive outcomes for children as well as home child care providers.
“If we care about eradicating educational inequity, we have to start investing in the settings where children are, and investing in their teachers.”
Improving Outcomes for Children and Care Providers
In 2015 an independent evaluator found that family child care providers associated with All Our Kin scored an average of 50 percent higher on nationally recognized assessments for measuring quality in family care settings. These scores have also been shown to correlate with positive child development outcomes, particularly for known indicators of school readiness.
Family child care providers who work with All Our Kin receive economic benefits as well. An independent study found that within two years of becoming licensed nearly half of the providers who joined the All Our Kin network reported earning $10,000 more per year. Last year, providers who participated in All Our Kin’s business coaching program nearly doubled their annual income. The study also found that for every $1 invested in All Our Kin, approximately $15-20 is returned to society in terms of increased gross regional product (GRP).
As Janna and Jessica continue to grow the organization, they have been intentional about growing the influence of its providers, the majority of whom are women of color born outside the U.S. From the beginning, family child care educators have helped shape the vision and structure of the organization, and they continue to do so in multiple ways. “They regularly give input on our programs, services, and staff,” Janna says. “We get feedback after every service, every workshop, every training.”
Educators advise, serve as peer mentors, and sometimes join the All Our Kin staff. All Our Kin launched a new initiative to train the most experienced educators in developing and offering professional development so they can share their expertise with their colleagues and the larger early childhood field.
As of November 2018, All Our Kin supported around 700 providers, impacting around 5,000 children, in three Connecticut regions and New York City. The organization plans to expand its presence in New York in the near future and hopes to be serving 1,300 providers—impacting 8,000 children—by 2021.
"If we care about eradicating educational inequity, we have to start investing in the settings where children are, and investing in their teachers,” Janna says. “I think we’re changing the narrative around what family child care providers can do, and what the families in those programs deserve.”