Quality Early Learning Makes Tulsa a Great Place to Grow Up

By Tom Vander Ark


Tulsa is a great place to grow up, in part, because there is really good access to quality early learning. In 1998, Oklahoma passed a law providing for free access to prekindergarten. Families in Tulsa benefit from leading edge programs supported by the George Kaiser Family Foundation (@gkff) and the Schusterman Family Foundation. Improvement and talent development efforts are coordinated by ImpactTulsa (@ImpactTulsa) a regional nonprofit.


Dr. Kathy Seibold is Executive Director of ImpactTulsa, a collective impact organization that seeks to align regional efforts around key outcomes including a healthy start, kindergarten ready and reading in grade three. Jessica Smith leads earlylearning efforts for ImpactTulsa and coordinates partnerships with districts and foundations focusing on access and quality of programs. The ImpactTulsa team recognizes that parents, caregivers, and other adults in a child’s life, birth through age five, all contribute to school readiness. They advocate for access to quality preschool, health care, nutrition, and physical activities.


Smith notes that children who attend a quality Pre-K program are a third less likely to repeat a grade through 8th grade and that entering school ready to learn can improve one’s chance of reaching middle-class status.


Sophia Papas led early learning in New York City before joining the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) to advance early learning in Tulsa. “I heard big things were happening for the littlest learners in Tulsa,” said Papas. Inspired by twenty years of progress and talented leaders like Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist, Papas moved to Tulsa.


Kaiser’s support for early learning is equity driven. The unifying theme of the Foundation is that “no newborn child bears any responsibility for the circumstances of her birth and yet her future chance for success in life is heavily influenced by those circumstances.” GKFF supports a Birth through Eight Strategy for Tulsa (BEST). Grantmaking is focused on boosting the percentage of children that hit key milestones:



The BEST strategy supports a variety of community organizations across a comprehensive theory of action:



A Two-Generation Approach to Poverty


Steven Dow leads CAP Tulsa, an early learning network with 11 campuses that high-quality early childhood education with innovative family services. Highly skilled CAP Tulsa teachers take a whole child approach building in social and emotional learning and mental health supports across a well-designed curriculum. Parents have access to education and employment support which helps to stabilize the economic unit around the child and reducing mobility and chronic absenteeism. There is also a home visit program that helps parents be the first and best teacher for their child.


CAP Tulsa serves about 2300 children with a focus on quality interactions, language development, and social and emotional learning. Dow explains that the program was based on what we know about an effective center-based approach and a series of small experiments.


A home visit program reaches 300 children. The goal is “helping parents be first and best teacher,” said Dow.


Dedicated teachers, great operators like CAP Tulsa, supportive foundations and regional champion ImpactTulsa make Tulsa a great place to grow up. Listen in to our latest podcast to learn more about early learning in Tulsa.


View the original article and listen to the podcast here.


Key Takeaways


[1:27] About ImpactTulsa efforts as a member of the Strive Together Network.
[3:10] About Jessica’s work as the Director of Early Learning at ImpactTulsa.
[4:18] How Oklahoma’s law of providing free preschool for all children for all four-year-olds came to pass.
[5:58] About Sophia’s background in early learning and how she got to her position in Tulsa.
[8:10] Where Kaiser’s commitment to early learning came from.
[9:03] About Kaiser’s early learning focus on children from pre-conception through age eight.
[11:22] How this comprehensive early learning manages to work with the funding provided.
[13:18] The Kaiser Family Foundation’s investment agenda — how do they invest and what do they focus on?
[15:18] About Tulsa’s scaling and their continuous improvement model.
[18:00] What does good early learning look like?
[21:54] Their views and strategies for improving the quality of home-based childcare.
[23:35] Would Jessica like to see an even higher percentage of children in quality preschool?
[24:11] What would be a good goal for a community to achieve (in terms of the percentage of children attending pre-k)? More about ImpactTulsa’s upcoming initiatives and efforts to spread the message of the value of pre-k.
[26:07] Sophia’s and Kathy’s views on strategies to train and compensate early childhood workers and teachers.
[30:31] If a community came on a field trip to Tulsa, where would Kathy take them to learn more?
[31:20] If an advocate in another community were thinking about where to get started, what advice would Sophia give them?
[32:44] Online resources Sophia recommends to those who want to learn more.
[34:02] More about the CAP Tulsa program and Tom’s talk with Steven Dow, CAP Tulsa’s Executive Director.


Mentioned in This Episode


George Kaiser Family Foundation Birth Through Eight Strategy for Tulsa (BEST) Schusterman Family FoundationImpactTulsa ImpactTulsa.org/PreKTulsa Strive Together Network Teach for America University of Oklahoma Tulsa Community College Center on the Developing Child (Harvard University) National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) Child Trends CAP Tulsa


For more, see: