COVID-19, Local, Science

Cook County Launches Project Rainbow: Free High-Quality Early Childhood Education

Project Rainbow: President Preckwinkle addresses the Board of Commissioners on October 15, 2020.
President Preckwinkle addresses the Board of Commissioners on October 15, 2020. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

New initiative seeks to address learning loss magnified by COVID-19 with creation of free early childhood and family programming through the County TV station and a new mobile app

Cook County, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle joined with community leaders, tech innovators, cultural institutions, museums, non-profits, and other partners to announce Project Rainbow; a new County-created, family-focused recovery initiative designed to address the education barriers and learning loss exacerbated by the pandemic.

Through this initiative, Cook County and its Project Rainbow partners will produce new video content, or repurpose existing informative and educational content, to be utilized by children and families. To broaden the scope of the initiative’s possibilities, future Cook County initiatives and programming involving children, families, or the arts will now be recognized by the County as Project Rainbow initiatives.

“I am proud to introduce Project Rainbow and look forward to the educational opportunities it will provide to young children and families in Cook County and beyond,” said President Preckwinkle. “We know there has been a tremendous learning loss for our children throughout our County, state, and nation. Project Rainbow is a unique and creative way in which government and our partners can provide enriching, diverse programming for our children to supplement their education.”

Some lessons are already online. Lesson Plan One includes videos to help children “Learn the Letter R” and sing “The Letter R Song.” There are also printable materials in English and Spanish.

As the content library builds over time, Project Rainbow programming will air on Cook County’s cable channel (channel 22/900 on Comcast) at 10 a.m. and repeated at 4 p.m., Monday through Friday beginning Thursday, Aug 12.

The concept for Project Rainbow was created by Nick Shields, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Office of the President.

“Every parent and household has felt the unimaginable impact COVID-19 has had on day-to-day parenting,” said Nick Shields, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Office of the President. “Powered by world-class partners, Project Rainbow will serve as a unique and imaginative way in which Cook County leverages its existing and newly created communications platforms to inform, inspire and impact children and families in an engaging, exciting and thoughtful way.”

Cook County’s Project Rainbow was made possible with the support of the partners contributing to this initiative. A full list of content partners is below.

Through the generous support of the University of Chicago and Microsoft, all Project Rainbow content will also be available on-demand through a newly developed mobile app. Developed by the University of Chicago Tech Team and advised by app experts at Microsoft, the free Project Rainbow app will be available soon on the Google Play store and will be available on the Apple Store in the coming weeks as well.

Access to high-quality early childhood education is critically important to the success of our young people,” University of Chicago Institute of Politics Director David Axelrod said.  “I’m beyond proud of our TechTeam students for joining this effort to help make Project Rainbow programming more accessible to parents and families throughout our region.”

A portion of Project Rainbow content will draw on the partnership and expertise of Golden Apple’s award-winning teachers who are also state-certified teacher evaluators. Through this partnership, Project Rainbow will provide literacy enrichment videos for early childhood learners, geared specifically for 3- to 6-year-olds.

Developed by Golden Apple’s mentors, the curriculum is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, Illinois Learning Standards, and Creative Curriculum. Each lesson is designed to have a predictable structure, integrated content areas, a home connection for parents and the adults in children’s lives, and accessibility for diverse learners including special education and dual language learners.

“Our Golden Apple teachers and mentors have demonstrated their expertise to develop curricula that engages and enriches students’ learning,” said Alan Mather, President of Golden Apple. “This program comes at a critical time, as so many of our students are suffering from learning loss through the pandemic and their parents are struggling to address it. We believe Project Rainbow will help engage young children in the creative educational activities they need to learn and grow, and we’re thrilled to play a part in it.”

The curriculum will be visually imagined by the award-winning Chicago Children’s Theatre team led by Jacqueline Russell, Co-Founder and Artistic Director at the Chicago Children’s Theatre and award-winning bilingual actor, educator and storyteller and Jasmin Cardenas, who will serve as the curriculum’s teacher.

From a child home during the day with a caretaker, children of parents who are working from home and in need of high-quality programming on an iPad, or children coming home from school and seeking an educational alternative to afternoon TV time, Project Rainbow is intended to be a resource for residents and families in a flexible way that suits their needs.

“I’m immensely grateful to all of the partners who have rallied around our call to provide opportunity and educational resources for children and families through this unique and positive initiative,” Preckwinkle said.

With guidance from the Erikson Institute, Cook County has drafted a Project Rainbow Policy Brief addressing existing educational inequities facing young learners, how COVID-19 has worsened this dynamic and the large body of evidence showing how quality, educational media programming like Project Rainbow can significantly improve children’s development.

The policy brief is below:

Project Rainbow Partners

  • Adler Planetarium
  • Ariel Investments
  • Brookfield Zoo
  • Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
  • Chicago Children’s Theatre
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Common
  • Cook County Health
  • DuSable Museum of African American History
  • Erikson Institute
  • Field Museum
  • Forest Preserves of Cook County
  • Golden Apple Foundation
  • Housing Authority of Cook County
  • Joffrey Ballet
  • Microsoft
  • Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • National Museum of Mexican Art
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • The University of Chicago