A “Cowboy Approach” to Grantmaking Improves Education in Wyoming

By Becca Freeburn-Steinhoff, Wyoming Kids First and Mary Garland, John P. Ellbogen Foundation

The cowboy way of life in Wyoming has changed over the past 150 years, and yet we still live by the simple, basic values at the heart of the cowboy way.

The John P. Ellbogen Foundation invested in the start of Wyoming Kids First in 2009. Wyoming Kids First communicates a vision for comprehensive early childhood work and helps cross-community partners see how their work – individually and collectively – contributes to the bigger picture of children being valued, healthy, and prepared for success in school and life.

Wyoming Kids First has become a grassroots movement of people who agree that together we can and must do better for our kids and families.

Our approach connects to the Code of the West that – for us – is an abiding source of inspiration.

Live each day with courage. The Ellbogen Foundation boldly funds early childhood initiatives like Wyoming Kids First even though the long-term impacts will not be realized for years to come. The foundation’s spirit of adventure is tempered, though, by a strong commitment to thorough planning, intentional action, and adaptable evaluation.

Ride for the brand. The vision, mission, and values of Wyoming Kids First haven’t changed since the organization was created. Yet we have adjusted how we carry out our work and how we expect others to collaborate with us. We are blessed to ride for the brand of what’s best for kids and families, and know that we won’t sell our vision, mission, or values for another purpose.

Talk less and say more. We are action-oriented. We use intentional words and let our actions speak loudly. We tailor our messages to communicate a vision for comprehensive early childhood work. Our work and words help our partners see how their work contributes to the bigger picture.

Sometimes that means we have to ask difficult questions about our current resources. What do we have? Can we do better with that? What gaps can we address by extending what we’re already doing or with what we already have?

Take pride in your work. The foundation takes great pride in building honest, open, and accountable connections with others. We facilitate collaborative, strategic dialogues with diverse stakeholders to develop shared actions that will allow us all to be proud of the great work we are doing for kids and families. And we share leadership and accountability, believing that people support what they help to create.

Last spring, the Ellbogen Foundation co-hosted a statewide forum to showcase a model that connects families, early childhood professionals, the school district, the health sector, and the broader community in an effort to support the school readiness and success of all children.

Later, a leader from one of Wyoming’s small, rural towns approached us to help facilitate a dialogue in her community about this model and its outcomes. In less than two weeks, she pulled together the school district superintendent, the elementary school principal, all three kindergarten teachers, family child care providers, and several teachers from the Head Start and Developmental Preschool. Wyoming Kids First facilitated the meeting and dialogue, and encouraged the group to thoughtfully consider and prioritize what actions from the model they could implement to achieve comparable impacts.

Six months later, they have aligned the reading and writing curriculum between early childhood and the school district, and they have created a checklist to ensure parents and families, the school district, and early childhood professionals all have the same understanding of what skills, knowledge, and behaviors prepare kids for success in kindergarten. Additionally, they are developing a process that will allow them to host a transition meeting for every child who enters kindergarten in the 2013–2014 school year.

What do you think about these cowboy-themed approaches? They have worked for us, but feel free to challenge them or share more strategies below.

Becca Freeburn-SteinhoffBecca Freeburn-Steinhoff is executive director of Wyoming Kids FirstHer experience and education with community organizing and public administration led her to the organization in 2010. For the past three years, she has worked closely with the Ellbogen Foundation to adapt and evolve the collective impact of their shared initiative in local communities across Wyoming.     

mgarland_220Mary Ellbogen Garland is president and chair of the Wyoming-based John P. Ellbogen Foundation. Mary has taken the lead for a statewide Initiative in support of National Board Certification for Wyoming teachers and is giving focus to the Wyoming Early Childhood Partnership/Wyoming Kids First Initiative. She is a director on the Ruth R. Ellbogen Foundation board, and she serves on the University of Wyoming College of Education Advisory Board (honorary member), University of Wyoming Arts and Science Board of Visitors, Laramie County Community College, Albany Campus Advisory, Cathedral Home for Children Board, and as field support for the Jason’s Friends Foundation. 

One thought on “A “Cowboy Approach” to Grantmaking Improves Education in Wyoming

  1. Pingback: To Our Contributors, Thank You | PhilanthroFiles

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s