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Image: Taly Foundation website


Launched last year in Framingham, Mass., the Taly Foundation is a new philanthropic effort that’s devoted to early education. The foundation got its start when two parents faced the stark reality of how much money matters, even in pre-K.

Up until Jill Dixon and her husband Phil began looking for preschool programs for their own children, they “had been blissfully unaware of the complexities associated with early childhood education and access to a quality preschool program,” Jill Dixon told us in a recent interview.

Once they began to look, the Dixons learned what for them were “new concepts” such as lottery systems and lack of slots for children — the same scarcity that new crops of parents discover every year as they consider preschool options.

After the Dixons enrolled their son in a local, public preschool, “it dawned on us that it was so expensive that there may be a time when parents are unable to afford that for their children even though they may want to for their child.”

“So we asked the director, ‘is there ever a time when families can’t afford to put their children in preschool?’ And she said, ‘Oh yeah, honey, every year for the 28 years that I’ve been here.’ 

“I just stared at her and I said, ‘how many children can’t come?’… and she said, ‘Well this year there are five.’ So I said, ‘if I write you a check, can those five children then come? Because I’m not going to be able to sleep at night.’”

She wrote the check. Then she told her husband she’d written the check, and he asked if she was going to keep doing this because he saw “that look in my eye.”

Dixon’s answer: “Probably.”

So her husband suggested that they scale up this philanthropic approach.

The foundation was born, and the Dixons named it Taly, a merger of their children’s first names. Today, Jill Dixon is Taly’s president and co-founder, and Phil Dixon is treasurer, chairman, and co-founder.

Working with a local preschool, the Taly Foundation launched a first-year pilot program in August, 2015, and gave scholarships to 20 children so they could attend preschool year round for five days a week. The children also took swimming lessons, and Taly made sure that all children could go on field trips. In addition, Taly sponsored parent forums and a class at Massachusetts Bay Community College for 10 early educators. Taly also brought in coaches and mentors to support these educators.

It was the work of taking early education’s evidence-based ideas and executing them. Dixon points to the importance of teaching children social and emotional skills. Another key strategy was making sure parents knew what their children were doing in preschool — and building community among families to chip away at the isolation that parents can sometimes feel.

Dixon adds, “We realized very early on that somewhere along the line there has been this overarching lack of praise for these educators who are tasked with teaching and nurturing and loving our youngest learners and our most vulnerable learners…”

Indeed, despite doing amazing things for children, Dixon says, early educators are not getting the recognition they deserve, nor are they getting the salaries, training, and continuing education that they need to have the biggest impact on children’s lives.

Taly’s vision for the future: growing to scale, which Dixon says means ensuring that all children in the United States have access to high-quality early education and care programs.

To raise more funds, Taly has expanded its funding base, adding the donations of its board members and of the Dixons’ friends and family. And earlier this month, Taly held a fundraiser in Boston to reach out to new donors.

There’s much more hard work and collaboration ahead, Dixon says.

“As much as I want to solve the problem right now for all four million-plus children [nationally] and get them all in a high-quality preschool setting immediately, we understand that this is going to take time and that that is going to take not just the work of philanthropists and nonprofits and foundations, but also the corporate world as well as government. We are all going to have to work together to solve this problem.”