How Collective Impact Can Change the Odds – A Personal Story

rokich-stephanieby Stephanie Rokich
Director of Elementary Learning

Here at United Way of Salt Lake, we know that no organization alone can solve complex community problems. We talk a lot about how we work as a backbone organization to bring together partners, organizations, cities, schools, and others to provide cross-sector supports and common agenda. This type of work truly helps to create community-level change. I want to tell you a story that demonstrates why we here at United Way of Salt Lake are so invested in making Collective Impact work in our Promise Partnerships.

I mentored a teenage girl, Maria, for three years. Like many of the kids at the schools where UWSL works, Maria faced a mountain of barriers to her success. She grew up in a single parent home, and her older sister had gotten pregnant at 17 and dropped out of high school. She had spent a few years in Mexico and, as a result, wasn’t on grade-level with English. She was chronically absent from school, and her mom feared that she was involved with drugs.

The barriers were numerous, but I had high hopes for Maria. She was a kind, funny girl who loved dogs and always told me thank you when we hung out. As anyone who has volunteered to mentor a child may agree, I had big aspirations for Maria. I tried to get her on-track in school by helping with homework and encouraging her to attend every day. I got to know her interests, which included animals and science, and tailored activities around those interests. I emphasized that school was the key to making her dreams come true. In one word, I was a bit naive.

Near the three-year mark of our friendship, I could feel the end coming. I would call Maria to schedule an activity, and her phone would be disconnected. I would go to pick her up, and she wouldn’t be there. I realized that Maria was now a 16-year-old young woman, and hanging out with her mentor, who was 10 years older, wasn’t exactly “cool” anymore. I wasn’t upset because I understood where she was coming from, but I was worried about her. Maria always said she did well at school, but the story from her mom was different. She also told me that she occasionally went to parties with 21-year-olds, a revelation that was hard for me to hear. My big dreams for helping her succeed in life had been flattened by harsh reality.

A few months after we officially “closed” our mentoring relationship, I called Maria‘s mom to see how Maria was doing. The news wasn’t good. Maria had been kicked out of one high school for being chronically absent and then essentially dropped out of school at 16. I was completely heartbroken. How had this happened, largely under my watch? I couldn’t believe it.

Maria‘s seemingly hopeless story gets to the heart of why Collective Impact is such a powerful and necessary way to help kids. One program alone, no matter how great it is, is rarely enough to turn a kid’s life around when they grow up in the complicated world of poverty. Complicated issues require an “all-in” approach. For an example of that, here’s another brief story.

Although my experience with Maria didn’t end the way I wanted it to, I was determined to recommit myself to another young person who wanted a mentor. For the past year, I have mentored Pramila. Pramila’s story isn’t that different from Maria’s, except that Pramila and her family are refugees from Nepal. They live in poverty, just like Maria. Pramila was behind in English, having just arrived in the U.S. about four years ago. Even with a heap of barriers, Pramila and her family are doing well, and she is thriving in school. The key difference is Collective Impact.

PramilaStephanie

Pramila and her family receive and take part in targeted, high-quality supports. A local refugee resettlement agency helped her parents and older brother find jobs. Her mom takes free English classes at a nearby school so that she can learn how to navigate various systems, as well as support her children academically. Pramila and her sister attend an afterschool program through the Asian Association of Utah, which combines academics and enriching activities. Her school has a lot of targeted interventions for English Language Learners, and she is involved in college-prep classes like AVID. She has a mentor (me!) through Big Brothers Big Sisters. The family’s basic needs are met with various wraparound services. In essence, Pramila and her family have the entire community’s support to ensure that she and her siblings graduate from high school, obtain a post-secondary degree, and become self-sustaining adults. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to navigate a new country and school system without Collective Impact and dozens of community partners helping along the way. This is Collective Impact at its best. Our hope at United Way of Salt Lake is that ALL kids, regardless of their circumstances, are successful!

For me, I want to make sure that kids like Maria, who didn’t have the supports she needed to be successful, don’t fall through the cracks!

Keep Kids Learning Over the Summer!

rokich-stephanieby Stephanie Rokich
Director of Elementary Learning

Ever wonder what kids learn in the summer? The National Summer Learning Association has put together an interactive map of dozens of summer learning day programs and activities gong on across the country, all summer long. Check it out to find a dozen programs going on in our Promise Partnerships!

Summer Learning

United Way of Salt Lake Promise Partnerships know the importance of summer learning to keep kids on track in school. Otherwise, kids are susceptible to summer learning loss, commonly called the “summer slide”. With little or no access to educational programs or books during the summer, low-income kids often fall behind their peers during the summer and return to school in the fall at a lower academic level than when they left the previous year.

Summer Learning Day is a national advocacy day recognized to spread awareness about the importance of summer learning for our nation’s youth in helping close the achievement gap and support healthy development in communities all across the country.

The vision of the National Summer Learning Association is for every child to be safe, healthy, and engaged in learning during the summer. To realize that vision, the organization’s mission is to connect and equip schools, providers, communities, and families to deliver high-quality summer learning opportunities to our nation’s youth to help close the achievement gap and support healthy development.

Facts about Summer Learning from the National Summer Learning Association

  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).
  • Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).
  • More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).
  • Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children—particularly children at high risk of obesity—gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break (Von Hippel et al, 2007).
  • Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do (Duffett et al, 2004).

 

What does it mean to LIVE UNITED?

matt_q_headshotMatt Quigley
Administrative Assistant

To answer this question, I have to look back at how I got to United Way of Salt Lake.

I first heard of United Way of Salt Lake while I worked in development at Pioneer Theatre Company. My initial understanding of what UWSL did fell into the old “Community Chest” model of philanthropy; primarily, seeing donor-directed gifts moving through United Way to the theatre. When I started to look for a new job, however, I discovered United Way of Salt Lake is much more than a funnel for funds. UWSL’s shift to a Collective Impact strategy was a turning point for how the organization truly helps to change the odds for kids and families in our community. From my initial tip-toes into UWSL, to launching myself into our recent (and very successful!) internal campaign, seeing what UWSL is doing in our community excites me and ties much of my understanding of how the world works together.

I studied history at the University of Utah for five years, focusing on 20th century America. What interests me most about history is the way that much of the social, economic, and political change that happens in this world, starts and is largely driven at a local, community-based level. I believe that much of the social ill in the world can and must be addressed within our communities. Secondly, I believe that education is a primary driving force for that change.

It is no wonder why UWSL appealed to me as an organization dedicated to changing the odds in our community. What it means to me to LIVE UNITED is not only to be united with the people in my community, but to an idea that we must unite our time, resources, and commitments to make lasting changes. I have seen how a diverse and unified approach can lead to amazing results in communities, and I believe that is what we are doing here in our own backyards at United Way of Salt Lake.

The Effects of Our Efforts

Tim Coray
Granger Elementary Community School Director

United Way of Salt Lake recently hosted the Summer Institute at Granite School District. Summer Institute is an opportunity for schools and principals to come together to learn more about Promise Partnerships and Community School Work. This year, the featured speaker was Steve Ventura, former superintendent, principal and teacher, and nationally recognized thought leader on school transformation.

“The most powerful variable in school improvement is instructional leadership.” Steve Ventura began this year’s Summer Institute at Granite School District offices with this finding. On June 18 and 19, Community School Directors and Principals engaged in conversations and action planning for the upcoming school year. Steve Ventura, a California-based consultant with a background in teaching and administrating schools, facilitated this training focused on contemporary leadership and school improvement strategies.

In my previous career as a teacher, I knew there were many variables in my classroom: attendance, engagement, parent and co-worker collaboration, preparation (both mine and my students’), and on and on. During my first years in the profession, I used to fret over those factors equally and constantly. Surely, each had the ability to impact my students’ success, and I thought I ought to be able to improve them. However, with time and research, I learned the effect of each of those considerations was neither equal nor within my control. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned during that time was to concentrate my labor on endeavors with which I could affect the greatest change and to limit the sleep I lost over the others.

I recall that experience because the lesson I learned in my own classroom as a teacher was validated during the Summer Institute training. Steve Ventura empowered us with the research and tools to make decisions about where we put our greatest effort based on effect size and desired outcomes. In one exercise, Community School Directors and administration teams listed the programs and initiatives in place in our schools with the goal of analyzing the degree of implementation and the impact each had on students’ achievement. Completing this exercise through the lens of both teachers and administrators allowed us to identify areas of success as well as target programs in need of reconsideration or improved focus. In addition to refining school leaders’ efforts, this practice highlighted the excellent opportunities afforded Community Schools and reminded us that we have a common goal of changing the odds for our students.

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Reflecting on the Institute, Granger Principal Amber Clayton agreed. “The difference between this professional development and others is that all our training reminds school leadership of the importance of focusing our energy on areas that affect student achievement the most; however, Steve Ventura gave us the inspiration and tools to do so.”

The key word throughout our Summer Institute was leadership. A program or initiative is the most successful when aligned with the greater goals of the school and implemented with fidelity. Those variables are in the hands of a school’s leadership.

Holland & Hart LLP LIVES UNITED

amy_worthingtonAmy Worthington
Volunteer Events and Training Coordinator

On June 19, more than 125 attorneys, staff, family members, and clients from Holland and Hart LLP celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Salt Lake City office with a day of service at Kearns Junior High Community School.

Starting this fall, all 9th grade students and teachers from Kearns Junior High will be moved to Kearns High School. This major transition created a great need for helping hands to offer assistance to the staff and faculty of Kearns Junior.

Volunteers completed 16 different projects, including the tasks of painting, landscaping, cleaning lockers, auditorium chairs, and windows, organizing drama costumes and donated clothing, refurbishing two long-jump pits, assembling registration packets, moving musical instruments and furniture to new classrooms, and helping prepare rooms for the fall when students come back to school.

The 500+ hours of work and various donations given by the volunteers of Holland and Hart made a significant impact at Kearns Junior High. The overwhelming to do list of tasks that needed to be completed prior to school starting in the fall was significantly lessened thanks to their generosity.

This service project was chosen by Holland and Hart in response to Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Year of Service in Utah” challenge, which asked citizens of Utah to volunteer an additional 20 hours of service in their communities. We encourage each of you to do your part to heed the call from Governor Herbert! Show how you LIVE UNITED by signing up to participate in service projects in our community. Visit uw.org/volunteer for a variety of available opportunities.

 

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Savage Wraps Up Another Record-Breaking Campaign

timby Tim Harrison
Senior Community Investment Advisor

 

Last week, Savage employees wrapped up another fun-filled campaign to support our community. The world has to know how differently this company and its employees approach Changing the Odds for kids and families! To say they were “committed” would be an understatement. 

Savage Services is currently providing over a dozen volunteers per week to tutor exiting ninth graders who are recovering lost academic credit that they need in order to graduate. We’re starting to see some remarkable results and hear some heartwarming stories about their achievement–so plan on a full update here on The Hub, after we have wrapped up the summer tutoring session.

As far as the campaign goes, Savage blew its own records out of the water (no surprise there). I’m talking by tens of thousands of dollars, people! Part of that is due to the generous employees, who proudly exclaim that 100% of the company participates; it doesn’t matter how much you give, but that you’re all giving together to make a difference. Another big part of that increase is due to the corporate match of employee gifts, which is a remarkable $2 for every $1 pledged!

But hey, it’s always nice when the company kicks back a few prizes for donating, too. Savage didn’t hold back when they raffled off tickets to shows, Jazz suites, vacations up the canyon, and the most coveted parking spaces in the front row of the parking lot!

Thank you — to all the Savage donors, advocates, and volunteers! This community is lucky to have your ongoing support. You are all an outstanding example of what it means to LIVE UNITED. Shawn Nie Parking photo 2 Jayme Jensen Parking Carol Parking Spot Brad Perringer Parking

Granger Elementary Students Improve Reading Scores!

McLeod, Scottby Scott McLeod                                                                               Sr. Director of Community School Partnerships

There are many different terms we use for making things better than they were. With children, we talk about “learning from our mistakes.” With adults we believe we should “leave things better than when we found them.” At United Way, we take this notion very seriously, and even have a name for it, “continuous improvement.” And, like many efforts to achieve excellence, this involves cultivating both a culture and a daily practice. United Way Promise Partners also take continuous improvement seriously, particularly the Community Schools, whose core function is often to help kids achieving well below grade level, and bring them up to speed.

In January, Granger Elementary had a very rude awakening. Looking at the mid-year reading scores, not only were students not improving at the anticipated rate to ensure they achieved their end of year goals, they were actually decreasing in some grade levels, meaning they were further behind than when they started at the beginning of the year.

DSC_0070And this is where a continuous improvement culture matters.  Continuous improvement means continually monitoring your actions and practices to see where they can be improved. Granger had already done a lot to improve reading instruction, including small group work, one-on-one tutoring, additional instructors, and much more. But, rather than resting on their laurels, Granger staff doubled down. They focused their core instruction on the specific components of reading, such as fluency, accuracy, and retell. They sought out practice tests, evaluated the results, and tweaked instruction to individualize each student’s particular need.

DSC_0136And, it paid off! Granger students just finished their end-of-year reading tests, four of the seven grades reached or exceled their year-end goals, and all of them improved for the year.  Given this type of result, who knows what great things will be achieved next year!