Early Steps to School Success

Project Information

Principal Investigator: Helen Raikes
Co-Principal Investigator:
Funding Agency: Save the Children
Award Date:
Theme: Early Childhood, Families & Schools, Rural Education
Project URL: N/A

For more information please contact Helen Raikes at hraikes2@unl.edu.


Early Steps to School Success (ESSS), a program developed by Save the Children International, targets low-income and non-English speaking children in 130 rural communities across the U.S. The program features:

  1. Language and literacy-focused home visits for children from birth to age 3.
  2. Book bags with a regular supply of new books for parents to read to children from birth to age 5.
  3. Enrollment of three-year-old children in quality pre-K programs and auspice through public schools. 
We are conducting a national evaluation of 17 sites in Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska and South Carolina. The evaluation compares children birth to age 3 who receive services with comparable children who did not receive home visits, using a quasi-experimental design.

We are also assessing kindergarten entry scores for the population of these rural communities. This will allow us determine if community-wide early childhood education services (e.g., ESSS, Head Start, school-based pre-K) separately—and in combination—lead to changes in kindergartners’ English receptive language scores and reduce achievement gaps for non-English speaking children and children in poverty.

In the 17 communities, 510 children and their families will be studied. While all 17 communities are rural, there is considerable variation in low-income families who live in these communities and who are eligible for the ESSS program. Approximately half of these communities have sizable Spanish-speaking families, and the particular effects of birth to age 5 services for Spanish-speaking children will be of interest.

This program design builds on previous intervention research, which shows that continuity and follow-up in pre-k programs are important to school entry outcomes. Previous research also shows that improvements in readiness are identifiable across an entire community.