Start Early. Start well.

Closing the Opportunity Gap

Closing the Opportunity Gap is one of two signature programs of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.

The goal is to reduce or eliminate opportunity gaps, with a focus on children growing up in poverty or other conditions of high stress and familial challenge. This statewide program was launched in the Omaha area in fall 2014. Over time, we will collaborate with partner organizations, agencies, schools, and others to introduce new initiatives in other communities.

The Need

Research and economic analysis have shown that investments in young children help build a strong foundation for school and life success—which, in turn, positively impacts communities’ economic strength and well-being.

A small population state, Nebraska needs all of its children to reach their potential. But children in need face a steeper climb. Nearly 4 in 10 children (55,838) living in Nebraska (rural and urban) from birth through age 5 are at risk for school failure, according to First Five Nebraska. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute estimates the number jumps to approximately 100,000 when children age 8 and younger are included.

36% of children 5 years old and younger in Nebraska are at risk of eventually failing in school*
154,771Children Age 0-5 In Nebraska
60,744 Children 0-5 at Risk in Nebraska

The Plan

Through the Closing the Opportunity Gap program, the Buffett Institute partners with others to enhance and improve early childhood systems. Research demonstrates that starting early can have major short- and long-term effects on cognition and social-emotional development, as well as on school progress, earnings, reduction in anti-social behavior, lowered welfare participation, and even trouble with the law.
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Birth through Grade 3

Research documents that what happens during this time impacts the child’s entire life course. Key brain circuits are built, language is developed, and ways of interacting with others are established. If this essential foundation is in place by third grade, children have the “tool kit” they need to engage in increasingly complex learning, to problem-solve, and to sustain productive and caring relationships.

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Persistence of Effort

Continuous, comprehensive services across the first eight years of life—with special emphasis on positive transitions between each stage of learning and development—benefits all children. Persistent efforts reinforce children’s progress at each developmental stage, and supports and increases their capacity to learn at subsequent stages.

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School as Hub

Schools are well-positioned to connect young children, birth through Grade 3, and their families with high-quality early childhood services and education. Ideally, school-family partnerships— essential to the educational success of children at risk—are established very early in children’s lives. By reaching out early, schools have the potential to become a source of long-term continuity for children and their families.

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Educate the Whole Child

Children’s physical, social-emotional, cognitive and academic development happens simultaneously. Development in one area impacts progress in another. Strong relationships and supportive adult-child interactions are the foundation for children’s optimal learning and development.

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Parent and family support

Young children develop and learn within relationships, with families at the center. The Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan, the first initiative of the Closing the Opportunity Gap program, focuses on strengthening parenting skills, engaging families and caregivers with the school, and making families aware of educational, healthcare, and community resources that can support their child’s short- and long-term progress.

Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan

The first initiative of the Closing the Opportunity Gap program is the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan. The Superintendents’ Plan provides the blueprint for a comprehensive approach to serving vulnerable young children, birth through Grade 3, in the 11 school districts that make up the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. MORE


For more information, please contact Amy Schmidtke, Director of Program Development ( or 402-554-4128).

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