5 Things I Learned at Lincoln Elementary School’s Cultural Night

Amanda Matthewsby Amanda Matthews
Lincoln Elementary Community School Director

I am genuinely, incredibly inspired by the community at Lincoln Elementary. On March 19th Lincoln hosted its first annual Cultural Celebration Family Night, with dances, poetry, and food representing the variety of cultures of our students. The compassion and community that was displayed highlighted, for me, five lessons that deepened my commitment to and passion for our Community School efforts.

1. Students are dedicated.

For two weeks prior to the event, students volunteered to learn and repeatedly practice new cultural dances, a different one for each grade level. We were fortunate enough to have the connection to Cottonwood High School, where we were able to reach out to students and ask them to allow us to film instructional videos for various cultural dances that could in turn be taught to our elementary students. While we weren’t able to have every culture at our school represented through dance, we were able to showcase Native American, Mexican, Utahn, Burmese, East African, Middle Eastern, and Nepali cultures. The enthusiasm and effort that students put into their performances was incredible!

IMG_69502. Communities turn out.

We were thrilled to have over 500 people attend our event, a huge number for our school! Additionally, a group of high school girls from the Hser Ner Moo Community Center came out and gave a wonderful performance of a Sundanese dance. It was great to see so many people come together.

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3. Tamales go a long way to building community.

We all know that food is a great way to build connections and cross boundaries. One special piece of our Cultural Night was the variety of food that was available to families that reflected their own culture. There were tamales, African sambosas, and Middle Eastern dolmas; all of which caused excitement among the students. Students were able to see food at school that they have seen their parents prepare at home.

IMG_72464. Original student poems speak of life, friends, and homes.

Another aspect to our Cultural Night was the announcement of the winners of the student poetry contest. Many of our students participated in the contest and wrote about their own personal culture and families. First place went to a very talented second grade girl, who wrote about her life both in Nepal and here in the United States. We have some talented poets at our school!

IMG_68515. Dance brings people together.

The final performance of the night was our Native American closing ceremony dance, led by 6th grade students and their teacher. Slowly, they moved from the stage into the seating area and grabbed hands of audience members until almost the entire auditorium was on their feet, dancing together. It was an incredible feeling of community that even weeks later, still brings a smile to my face. It reminds me that, together, as a community, we will create bright futures for students.

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Promise South Salt Lake — United Way Partnership Receives National Praise

CherieWoodCherie Wood,
Mayor of South Salt Lake

….but the real reason for celebration happens here at home, in our community!

Untitled2Last month, I was pleased to present the Promise South Salt Lake model at the National Afterschool Summit at the University of Southern California. The event, hosted by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, provided a forum to celebrate our work in partnership with United Way of Salt Lake and to be recognized as a national example of excellence. Education experts as well as technology innovators, leaders from the private sector, celebrities and political allies of afterschool, came together at the summit to pledge their support, raise public awareness of the importance of afterschool programs, and highlight the resulting benefits to school age children, their families and communities. I was excited to have the opportunity to share information about the 10 Promise SSL Neighborhood Centers that enable us to deliver services and resources throughout the city. (5 centers are co-located in our Community Schools, and 5 deliver services in community-based locations.) I am proud of the accomplishments that the Promise South Salt Lake-United Way partnership achieves, and I am constantly inspired by the improvements in the overall wellbeing, economy, safety and health of our community.

Afterschool Summit Gov&MayorWoodThe feature of Promise South Salt Lake that drew the most interest at the summit was the holistic, comprehensive approach that is central to our work. Summit organizers and community leaders alike were anxious to know more about the Promise South Salt Lake Councils and how we have mobilized partners and stakeholders in the areas of health, safety, education, jobs and economy, housing, arts and community, and neighborhoods to guide, inform, and implement our work. We received praise for establishing a Promise South Salt Lake Department within the municipal structure of the city. We also received attention for the framework of communication, planning and organizing through which we have created a citywide system of programs and services.

I am so grateful for the Promise South Salt Lake-United Way of Salt Lake partnership, encompassing our many educational and community partners that supports the learning that occurs during the school day and helps us to achieve targeted academic benchmarks for our youth, such as homework completion, social skills development, and improved behavior. The partnership provides a welcoming place for our youth to learn and play together; provides working parents a safe place for their children to be during the afterschool hours; offers adults and families English, citizenship, and life skills classes; as well as arts, recreation, and other interest-based programs. The face of South Salt Lake is forever changed for the better because of this unique and amazing partnership.

Data Sharing – A Future Perspective!

danya-pastuszekby Danya Pastuszek
Senior Director, Continuous Improvement

My son – a Promise South Salt Lake resident – is less than nine weeks old, so it is hard to believe that, in fewer than five years, he will start kindergarten.

If things go as planned, he will have participated in a range of high-quality early learning opportunities (including high-quality preschool) before ever stepping into his kindergarten classroom.

Most likely, my son will excel at certain skills – and struggle with others. As he travels throughout his academic career, wouldn’t it be helpful if the teachers and other professionals working with him could share specific information about him with one other, in order to coordinate services and support his academic success?

What if his preschool teacher could tell his kindergarten teacher about how long my son was in preschool, how often he attended, and how he performed on various assessments? This information would help the kindergarten teacher plan instruction for him. What if, in return, his elementary school could give feedback to the preschool about my son’s progress? The preschool could use that information to improve their services for children like him. And – once my son starts to participate in enriching out-of-school time programs – what if the professionals working with him during the school day could know which programs he attended and to share information on his academic progress with them? The out-of-school time providers could plan their time with my son to reinforce the learning he was doing in the classroom.

United Way of Salt Lake and dozens of Promise Partners who work directly with children have carefully built a data-sharing infrastructure that makes these hypothetical situations real. In other words, through the responsible sharing of individual-level data between schools and out-of-school time service providers, we are helping early learning, afterschool, and mentoring programs to align their work with what individual students most need.

Because we take privacy seriously and we want to be transparent about what student information we are collecting, who it is being shared with and for what reasons, and how it is being protected — we have developed a series of resources on individual-level data sharing. Visit our website for more information.

By sharing individual-level data and living the other principles of Collective Impact, we can help every student in the Promise Partnerships to start kindergarten ready to learn, excel in their education, graduate high school, complete a degree or credential that leads to financial stability, and live a healthy, happier life.

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White House Hosts Pay for Success Summit in Salt Lake City

chris-ellisby Chris Ellis
Director of Early Learning

Last week, the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, in partnership with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Nonprofit Finance Fund, hosted a Pay for Success Summit in Salt Lake City for the Western region of the United States. This Summit was intended to highlight and advance regional activity and build long-term Pay for Success infrastructure to catalyze the development of future projects.

Salt Lake City was a fitting location for this Summit, as it is the home of the first Pay for Success agreement in the world to support early childhood education. United Way of Salt Lake led the effort and worked closely with numerous organizations to implement this project, including, Granite School District’s Preschool Program, Park City School District, Salt Lake County, Voices for Utah Children, Utah State University, Goldman Sachs, and J.B. Pritzker. Now in its second year, the Utah High-quality Preschool Program has provided access to high quality preschool to nearly 1,000 low-income children in Utah. Participants at the Summit were able to learn more about this particular deal and discuss other projects that are being considered to support outcomes for children and families in other communities. Throughout the day, organizations announced funding opportunities for participants to increase their knowledge about Pay for Success and their capacity to utilize this innovative strategy.

Photo c/o @NFFSocialImpact

Photo c/o @NFFSocialImpact

As an attendee, I was able to network with other individuals from around the country who are pursuing Pay for Success as a funding strategy to support social services in their communities and learn more about the developments in this field. Attendees were either implementing or considering deals to support programs that are working to lower rates of recidivism, reduce homelessness, improve public health, and expand access to early childhood education. It is exciting to see the enthusiasm and interest around this approach, as it can be a valuable component of a strategy to achieve community level results in communities throughout the country.

I look forward to seeing the impact that Pay for Success can have on addressing the needs in our respective communities. The Utah High-quality Preschool Program has clearly helped local children, and Pay for Success can surely be used to improve outcomes for children and families around the country.

Photo c/o @Rep. Greg Hughes

Photo c/o @Rep. Greg Hughes

What is the Difference Between Collaboration and Collective Impact?

LoriBays-HHSA-4x5by Lori Bays
Human Services Department Director, Salt Lake County
Guest Blogger

On January 8th, United Way and Salt Lake County jointly sponsored an event presented by StriveTogether, whom I call the gurus of Collective Impact. The event focused on the continuous improvement model and its application within Collaborative Action Networks. Participants included United Way of Salt Lake and County staff, as well as school district personnel.

What began with a very general overview of the difference between collaboration and Collective Impact, quickly became a very in-depth lesson in continuous improvement conditions and methodologies which definitely caused us to stretch our thinking and reminded us of how critical it is to remain hyper-focused on outcomes.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 4.05.37 PMIn fact, that was one of the biggest take-a-ways from the day, from my perspective…FOCUS! Focus on the major priorities and keep moving forward. Don’t get distracted by the “squirrels” (think of the dog in the movie “Up”); there are no silver bullets.

We learned the importance of following the methodology and gained a new (at least to me) tool, the A-3. It also reiterated the importance of staying on track, sticking with the steps, and asking the right questions to get to the answer you need.

The A-3 was also used to remind us of the PDSA (Plan, Do, Study Act) tool, which is simple enough to use in any setting. In fact, it is even used in schools to help students achieve their academic and personal goals.

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Our afternoon was spent doing a deep-dive into each of our fields using the A-3 and let me tell you, it was harder than I thought it would be. Our team stuck with it, though, and we were able to use it effectively to think through our outcome. At the end of the day, we had a plan in place and had learned a technique that will be useful for years to come. A huge thank you to United Way of Salt Lake and StriveTogether for this great event!

 

American Express Brings “Uncontrollable Excitement” to Granger Elementary!

Dennis Huynhby Dennis Huynh
Community Investment Advisor

As 130 students in the Granger Elementary afterschool program finished up their activities, they headed into the cafeteria to wrap up the evening. What was a quiet room just moments prior, started buzzing with uncontrollable excitement. When the students entered the cafeteria, they could see mounds of gifts awaiting them……….DSC_0511

On December 16, a group of 19 volunteers from American Express went to Granger Elementary to help students in the afterschool program learn how different cultures celebrate the holiday season. The volunteers rotated with the children between three groups where they decorated cookies, created beaded necklaces, and learned about Chanukah by playing the dreidel game.

DSC_0429At Granger Elementary Community School, a United Way of Salt Lake Neighborhood Center, 81 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The holiday season is especially rough for the kids and their families. Some of these students, when asked what they wanted for Christmas, replied with socks, pillows, blankets, and other clothing. Not the usual toys and games that you would see being requested by elementary students. One student even asked for shoes and a blanket for his parents.

DSC_0469These volunteers took time out of their busy days to help these students learn about different holiday traditions and had a lot of fun doing so. And, they saved the best for last. American Express had generously purchased gifts for all of the students! The amount of joy on the students’ faces was immeasurable. Thank you so much American Express for being such a bright light during the holidays and for showing everyone how to LIVE UNITED.

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Dan Heath Inspires Promise Partners!

andrea-coxby Andrea Cox
Director of Destination Graduation

Last week, United Way of Salt Lake partners gathered to hear Dan Heath, co-author of the New York Times Bestseller, Switch, discuss the components needed to effect large scale social change. Partners also heard updates about ongoing Collective Impact work and had the opportunity to attend breakout sessions on topics such as Behavioral Health for Students and Families, Elementary Literacy, Kindergarten Readiness through Pre-School, and Closing Utah’s Skills Gap.

Dan Heath presented on several key ideas including: “rider vs. the elephant,” change is difficult but not impossible, and to expect to fail – but fail forward. He explains that when you’re contemplating change, the “elephant” is the passion and emotion that bring people to the table — it is the motivator to push through the “weeds” of the process. Likewise, the “rider” provides that process and direction. Both are necessary for change!

_MG_8181“It was a really great presentation for me because I’ve been trying to implement a lot of the strategies he discusses,” said Chris Ellis, United Way Director of Early Learning, “and I attempted to demonstrate that in my breakout session afterwards.”

“A lot of participants in my breakout session brought up Dan Heath in our discussion about Elementary Literacy, which was really cool to hear,” said Stephanie Rokich, Director of Elementary Learning.

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During the “Closing the Skills Gap” breakout session, Karen Gunn from Salt Lake Community College, talked about how timely and useful the presentation with Dan Heath was, as members of her own staff have been implementing his suggested strategies for change over the past three years. The discussion turned to how the individuals in the room could work together to make sure all “opportunity youth,” ages 15-25 who are unemployed and/or not enrolled in some sort of certificate or degree program, could be identified and supported towards enrollment and job placement. This conversation is a vital piece to supporting the Governor’s 66% by 2020 goal and we look forward to continuing to shape the path in partnership with Salt Lake Community College and others.

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The fourth breakout session on Behavioral Health for Students and Families brought professionals into the room to discuss family stability and how to “motivate the elephant” toward large scale access to vital resources. “The event was a nice springboard for this discussion and I’m excited moving forward,” said Caroline Moreno, Director of Health and Income.

We look forward to continuing to bring government agencies, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and schools together to continue this important work and “motivate the elephant” to long-lasting, widespread change.

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