Nurtury is Changing the Game in Early Education

It’s that time.

While many of us are thinking about buying backpacks and new shoes to send kids back to school, the real work actually begins much earlier. In fact, it goes all the way back to infancy, which is why we’re discussing a vital theme this month: the social and emotional development of infants and toddlers. 

NURTURY changes the game

In this month’s conversation, we sit down with Jaye Smith, Chief Advancement Officer at Nurtury in Boston.  Nurtury is United Way of Massachusetts Bay’s largest partner in prioritizing early education and care.  We work closely with Nurtury to create key strategic initiatives like DRIVE, Shared Services, and the Boston Birth to 8 Coalition. 

Around since the 19th century, Nurtury started as an infant nursery to help industrial-age working mothers. 140 years later, Nurtury’s an industry-leading, expert-led network of educational programming and care for children from birth to 5 years old.

Jaye recently sat down with us to share what drew her to Nurtury, the dogma she wants to debunk, and her thoughts on how advocacy pays off. 


Jaye, thanks for joining us today. You told me one of the reasons you were drawn to Nurtury was the Learning Lab. What is that?  

The Learning Lab is our flagship Nurtury center. It’s a 22,000 square foot, LEED-certified, state-of-the-art facility, comprised of 10 classrooms on 2 levels. The Learning Lab’s promise to the community is to be a beacon of what is possible in early education. To be an innovator and forward-thinker. To think about what supports we need in education for our kids who are living in some of our more vulnerable neighborhoods.  

Our visionaries and stakeholders–including United Way–rallied around the idea of opening this facility in the middle of an urban housing development (the Mildred C. Hailey apartments) in Boston.

“Beacon” is a wonderful word to describe Nurtury and the Lab – so how does this lighthouse invest in the social and emotional development of young kids? 

Since it opened, our Lab has a variety of programming focused on young children’s social and emotional development: a STEM-related curriculum, art and music programs, plus key partnerships with community-based organizations, including the United Way. While this lab is a beacon for families and the community, while it’s resourced differently – it’s not a disconnect from the other 5 Nurtury centers.

a common misunderstanding

Jaye, when I asked you about young children thriving, I made an assumption that unfortunately many people make – what was it?

It’s not just you! I’d love this blog to dispel the notion that because our families and our kids are predominantly low-income, that does NOT translate to kids who are not thriving and don’t have the things that they need. 

They’re coming from families that love them and want the most for them. 

When someone says “low income,” there’s a perception that comes to mind, and that perception is sometimes “without.”  That your parents are struggling, or may not be educated, or cannot offer the same kind of care. 

Nurtury has always viewed parents as the child’s first teacher. While we do have some kids [like you’re thinking], that’s a small population when you consider the 1,200 we care for daily. 

We see children every day, and we believe all of the kids that we serve are able to thrive no matter what the circumstances. 


So if parents are the first teachers, what do Nurtury teachers focus on?

Quality is embedded in all that we do, and the teachers here at Nurtury have an overwhelming passion for early childhood development, for nurturing the kids in the classroom. Teaching them. Working with their families. Creating that safe, emotionally nurturing, intellectually-stimulating environment. 

The cognitive, the social, the emotional development of every child is what we’re fixated on and building on every single day in our 40 classrooms and 128 family childcare sites. 

That’s what our teachers do – and they do it really well.  


In your experience, what could early childhood agencies improve upon to help the youngest children? 

One of the things that’s incredibly important to this sector and that impacts everyone touched by the early education space (educator, family member, guardian, community partner) is advocacy. Here at Nurtury, we make a big deal about advocacy, getting to know our legislators. When you really talk to them, when you meet with them about what happens in early education – including teachers with insufficient pay and limited resources – something wonderful happens: they listen. We know people are listening because the state budget this year made early education a priority with earmarks in the budget. 

Advocacy is what all of us can do better to impact and grow the resources for early education.  

If you could solve one challenge that Nurtury itself faces in the early education sector, what would it be?

The recurring theme is workforce. For Boston – and other cities – attracting people and keeping them in this early education sector is a huge challenge. The way Nurtury is tackling that is by trying to make our compensation package as competitive as our other partners in this work. And we offer an extensive amount of early education training. United Way is a tremendous support to Nurtury (financially and programatically), and with that support, we still have to raise more money to do what we need to do operationally. But philanthropy is slowly signalling that early education is a space they want to know more about. 


There’s been a noticeable uptick in philanthropy in our sector. Because Nurtury doesn’t have embedded donors, parents that always have the means to make a donation, or school alumni, we have early education supporters who care about our communities and understand that when you nurture a child, you nurture a community. If you can get to a kid before they start kindergarten, the outcomes of their life and trajectory throughout is far better. And to help us in our mission, we hold an event called Night for Nurtury that is our signature fundraising effort. 


Jaye, thank you for speaking with us about early education. Any final thoughts?

We’re so grateful to United Way and our long-standing relationship for well over 50 years. And Mary Kay Leonard, our interim CEO and United Way board member, has guided this ship in an exceptional way. We want you to know the power of her presence amplifies what United Way has been for Nurtury: an anchor.