Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center Announces Recipients of “Families Learning Across Boundaries” Spark Grants

Winning Programs Use Public Media to Help Kids and Families Take STEM Learning from the Classroom into the Real World

New York, December 4, 2018— The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop has announced four recipients of Families Learning Across Boundaries (FamLAB) Spark Grants. FamLAB is a program designed to identify, support, and promote innovative approaches to help kids aged 3-12 learn more deeply across home, community, and school settings. The four winning teams—Science in the Park, Family Math, El Circulo Familiar, and Let Our Powers Combine!—represent a growing community of researchers, practitioners, and developers who are exploring new ways to facilitate learning beyond the classroom. The winning projects were selected in part for their scalability and potential to positively influence other partnerships around the country. Totalling a combined $100,000, the grants will help extend the winning projects’ valuable work. Throughout the year, these four teams will work closely with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center to implement their programs within their local communities, document their challenges and successes, and share stories that will help guide and inspire other organizations interested in expanding STEM learning opportunities for families with young children.

  • Science in the Park is a partnership between the National Park Service and the National Writing Project, forged with the explicit goal of opening classroom walls and park boundaries. Science in the Park brings teachers and park rangers together to develop programs that welcome young people and their families into local parks and invite them to play and learn about science together. The collaborations funded by this grant will invite teachers and rangers to imagine how connected learning opportunities could be fostered to reach a broader audience. Each collaboration will use a local park as a platform for hands-on science learning, tapping the parks’ resources and the National Writing Project’s writing and publishing expertise. Robust professional development opportunities will help educators develop place-based curricula that make use of local environmental resources.
  • Family Math is a collaboration between nonprofits Zeno and Washington STEM. Together, the two organizations are working to help families in low-income Latinx communities in Central and Eastern Washington state engage with early math. By bringing together Zeno’s model for early math family engagement and Washington STEM’s statewide network [of educators?], the Family Math project will work with families and community leaders to establishparents and caregivers as a child’s first and most important math teachers. The project team will assess existing attitudes and resources around early math in the selected communities, and then identify the most effective communications channels and community messengers. Listening closely to families in this program, they will build messaging that amplifies family voices as strong math advocates and outline a process for adapting their new framework to other low-income communities of color.
  • El Círculo Familiar is a partnership between the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, PBS SoCal, and the Critical Media Project at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Currently working in three neighborhood schools, El Círculo brings families of first- and second-grade students into the STEM learning circle by extending the in-school computer science engagement provided by USC Viterbi’s Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools (BOTS). PBS SoCal’s Early Education team will introduce families to digital learning through bilingual playshops, donating tablets loaded with educational apps so families can extend their growing media fluency at home. The Critical Media Project will empower families and students by countering stereotypes that suggest only certain people are skilled in fields like robotics and computer science. USC’s School of Engineering program, Viterbi Adopt-a-School Adopt-a-Teacher (VAST), will enlistUSC student volunteers and campus lab tours to further bolster the families’ STEM learning journeys and encourage the children to attend college.
  • Let Our Powers Combine— Idaho’s Early STEM Network Initiative is developing a network of early STEM advocates to define the region’s current deficiencies in early STEM education, identify best practices, and implement pilot programs to reach the many underserved populations throughout the state. Led by the Idaho STEM Action Center (STEM AC), this network will provide early education professionals with the tools and language they need to facilitate inquiry-based STEM education. Let Our Powers Combine recently convened a summit of representatives from government agencies, libraries, research institutions, and community-based organizations to identify pilot programs that engage underserved and underrepresented populations that reach children aged 0-8. These pilot programs will be supported by research from Boise State University (BSU) as well as resources from Idaho Public Television, Idaho Commission for Libraries, Idaho Out-of-School Network programs, and the STEM AC. In the summer of 2019, the early STEM network will reconvene to evaluate the pilot programs, reflect on lessons learned and set new goals and an action plan for future activities.

“The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is thrilled to support these innovative projects in early STEM education,” said Lori Takeuchi, Acting Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “Through programs like FamLAB, we’re building an exciting network of leaders that will contribute greatly to the national conversation around learning across boundaries for years to come.”

The Families Learning Across Boundaries Project is generously supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Bezos Family Foundation, and Oath Foundation.



About the Joan Ganz Cooney Center
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop investigates the potential of digital media to help children learn, and collaborates with educators, media producers, policymakers and investors to put this research into action. An independent nonprofit organization, the Center addresses issues of digital equity and aims to strengthen connections between formal and informal learning environments. Learn more at

About Sesame Workshop
Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit media and educational organization behind Sesame Street, the pioneering television show that has been reaching and teaching children since 1969. Today, Sesame Workshop is an innovative force for change, with a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. We’re present in more than 150 countries, serving vulnerable children through a wide range of media, formal education, and philanthropically-funded social impact programs, each grounded in rigorous research and tailored to the needs and cultures of the communities we serve. For more information, please visit s


Press Contacts
Catherine Jhee
Joan Ganz Cooney Center

Brit Edwards
Sesame Workshop


PHOTOS (click for higher-res files):

Science in the Park
Photo: National Writing Project

Family Math
Photo: Zeno Math

El Círculo Familiar
Photo: PBS SoCal

Let Our Powers Combine
Photo: BSU Children’s Center