LUME Advances Early Childhood Ed in STL with $50k Opus Foundation® Grant


​High-quality early childhood education sets children up for kindergarten success. Supporting early childhood education is a key focus area of the Opus Foundation®, which is why they recently awarded a $50,000 grant to LUME Institute (LUME) in St. Louis.

The LUME Approach

Formed in 2008 by Steve Zwolak, executive director of University City Children's Center (UCCC), LUME's mission is to transform the way families, educators and communities inspire young children to learn, grow and thrive. Focused on early childhood education, LUME is rooted in the understanding that young children's emotional development is the foundation for lifelong health, growth and learning. The nonprofit has partnered with nearly 300 early childhood education centers to offer professional development, family education and workforce development programs. 

“Research has proven the majority of brain architectural development happens in the first five years of life," said Zwolak. “That's why early childhood education is so important, particularly for children living with obstacles associated with poverty."  

In 2019, LUME worked with more than 2,000 early childhood educators, helping them grow in the ability to foster emotional development in children. That same year, LUME received the St. Louis Business Journal's Cutting Edge Award for its work to help break intergenerational cycles of trauma.  LUME-trained educators achieve encouraging results: 74% report a reduction in power struggles with children and an 84% reduction in isolation and expulsion of children.

Challenges for Early Childhood Education

Within the last five years, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the childcare licensing body, removed the requirement for early childhood educators to have high school diplomas or GEDs in order to work in licensed childcare centers. Nationally, median pay for early childhood educators is $10.72 per hour. 

Due to lack of training and professional development opportunities, the early childhood education field is experiencing challenges caused by a low number of qualified teachers and turnover of staff, which averages 30% annually nationwide.  

“A child's worst fear is abandonment," said Swolak. “Relationships with adult role models are important to young children and when teachers are there one day and gone the next, they can feel abandoned. This is particularly true for children who have experienced abandonment by other significant adults in their lives." 

To address these challenges, the Opus Foundation grant will fund two LUME initiatives: an Early Childhood educator-specific configuration of an online screening and assessment tool called Kiosite and a Child Development Associate (CDA) credentialing program. 

Recruiting with Kiosite to Earn Credentials   

Professional development is critical to quality early childhood education and also for attracting and retaining high-quality instructors. 

To find and qualify early childhood education recruits, LUME will adapt Kiosite to assess candidates' ability to form relational attachments, demonstrate empathy and sensitivity, understand temperaments of self and others, co-regulate with children and others and demonstrate a sense of self through autonomy, identity and resilience. 

As part of a pilot program, LUME will use Kiosite to identify and select 25 teacher candidates, who will go on to receive the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, a widely-recognized and accepted early childhood education credential that qualifies them to work at licensed childcare centers and programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start. The CDA credential also qualifies them for Assistant Center Director positions with opportunities to earn a living wage and upward mobility in the field.  

“The generous grant from Opus will enable us to conduct the pilot and move the first set of candidates through the process," said Zwolak. “After laying the foundation and measuring our success, we plan to expand the program for a larger set of data. In time, our goal is to make a big impact, effectively influencing policy and elevating the standards for early childhood education."  


The Opus Foundation is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families through grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work.