GBH establishes Kids Catalyst Fund supporting educational media for children

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"Molly of Denali," which features the first Alaska Native lead character for a PBS Kids series, will receive support from GBH's Kids Catalyst Fund.

GBH in Boston created a philanthropic fund this month to raise money for a variety of children’s educational content and learning services.

The Kids Catalyst Fund will seek donations from individuals and foundations to support education initiatives that aim to provide equitable and inclusive access to learning resources. “We want to create an opportunity for people who care about this work and who understand the needs to support it in a meaningful way,” said Jessica Connolly, GBH’s senior director of development for major gifts.

The mandate for the Kids Catalyst Fund “is very broad in terms of the type of work it supports,” Connolly said. “It’s never been more apparent that there is a critical need for quality research-based, curriculum-based, representative, equitable, inclusive content for kids.”

GBH created the fund in part because of issues with educational equity and inclusion that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools closed and lack of broadband access created barriers for students to participate in remote learning programs.

Serving diverse audiences and helping close learning gaps for marginalized communities is a key part of the initiative, said CEO Jon Abbott in a March 1 news release announcing creation of the fund.

The fund, which will seek donations through the GBH Educational Foundation, is structured to raise money in perpetuity. “We’ve intentionally not set a financial goal or a timing goal for this fund,” Connolly said. “The reason for that is that this isn’t a one and done. … The goal is to raise as much money as possible to support this work because there is a critical need for it.”

GBH has a long track record of spearheading successful children’s initiatives. It developed and produced or co-produced the landmark series Zoom, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Arthur, among other titles. Its current slate includes Molly of Denali, which debuted in 2019, and a music education series based on Kwame Alexander’s first children’s book, in the works for a 2024 debut. With PBS, GBH also co-founded and co-manages PBS LearningMedia, an online learning service for guardians, teachers and students.

GBH’s strategy is to seek funds from wealthy donors, small donors and foundations, Connolly said. “We want this to be an opportunity for anyone who wants to support the work in this space to be able to do so. Of course, the larger the gift, the more significant the impact one can make on a particular project. … But we want to be as inclusive as possible,” she said.

Proceeds from the Kids Catalyst Fund will support content and “various types of classroom and community work within the education department, including research and development,” according to Tara Mayes, a GBH spokesperson.

One example is GBH’s “Molly of Denali at Your Library,” an initiative that presented virtual and in-person screenings of the series in libraries. In the past, GBH has worked with libraries in tribal communities to distribute educational games and information about Alaska Native culture and values to families with young children, according to Mayes. GBH has also created library event guides, community scavenger hunts and Molly of Denali viewing parties.

Mayes said another community-based program that could receive financial support through the fund is the Educator Ambassador program, a joint initiative led by GBH and New England Public Media, which operates WGBY-TV in Springfield, Mass. Ambassadors for the program are drawn from local schools to advise the stations on educational content development and teacher engagement.

The fund may also back an outreach project about civics with the Massachusetts’ Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and development of climate education resources for middle-school children and teachers, according to Mayes.

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