Spreading the Word About Early Learning in a Pandemic

Is it possible to do in-person community outreach safely during a global pandemic? Now that we’ve wrapped our 2020 Early Learning Ambassador Project, a well-established COFI tradition that’s kicking off its second decade—we can confidently say that the answer is YES!

The project, which started in 2009, trains POWER-PAC IL parent leaders to reach out to families in their own communities about Head Start enrollment for young children. Ambassadors are extensively trained in leadership development, peer-to-peer outreach, child development, and the benefits of early learning programs. Since its inception, the Project has been very successful in increasing Head Start enrollments of hard-to-reach families.

In a typical year, ambassadors conduct outreach in their communities during summer and early fall. Efforts include knocking on doors, posting flyers in low-income communities, and talking with parents at local events. Ambassadors have long believed that this personal connection with families is a crucial element to the project’s success—and in 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic raging in these same communities, the need felt more urgent than before. The ambassadors worked together to safely adapt previous years’ tactics for in-person outreach. Methods included:

  • Focusing on essential and high-trafficked areas like transportation hubs and grocery stores, due to lack of community events
  • Slowing pace of outreach to allow for mask wearing and social distancing
  • Distributing masks and bilingual guidance on correct mask-wearing
  • Sharing COVID-19 resources with families, such as information on utility relief, eviction moratorium, etc.
  • Using QR codes to share the Chicago Early Learning application
  • Studying city data to prioritize communities with high reports of vacancies and low application rates

Two people wearing matching shirts and face masks sit at a community outreach event table

All in all, ambassadors knocked on 33,543 doors, spoke to 8,399 people, and located 1,047 children under the age of 5. Due to the safety measures taken, there were zero positive Covid tests among the ambassadors during the project!

It’s important to also acknowledge the reality of the pandemic’s severe impact on the communities where outreach was conducted. People who had Covid or cared for a sick family member also contended with unemployment or underemployment, financial struggles, and the challenges of remote learning in places with spotty internet connections. These difficulties were not lost on the ambassadors—but armed with outreach skills and knowledge, they were prepared. In such an unusually hard year, ambassadors successfully empowered parents to make the best decisions for their families.

Read more in the 2020 Early Learning Ambassador Project Year End Report.