A city’s urban core can be telling – and the City of Phoenix is no different. How the city’s center performs is an indicator of the health of the city overall, and even the state. So when the Valley of the Sun United Way explored ways to break the cycle of poverty, it’s no surprise that they looked to improving educational success for kids from birth to career. They focused on the city’s core – Phoenix Union High School District and the 13 districts that feed into it, in addition to Arizona State University and Maricopa County Community Colleges that many of their students would eventually attend.
The schools in the Thriving Together boundaries face unique challenges, such as high levels of poverty, 250,000 students whose home language is something other than English, and a school system consisting of many different districts and entities. These are the factors that drive Thriving Together to improve educational outcomes for our kids.
Using a collective impact approach in the education sphere, Valley of the Sun United Way created Thriving Together, a convening of key stakeholders from 60 organizations from education, non-profit, community groups, businesses, and government, all dedicated to improving key milestones. For Thriving Together, those milestones align with the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which was launched in 2016. Their key focus areas include quality early learning, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, middle to high school transition, high school graduation, post-high school enrollment and postsecondary attainment.
Video: Thriving Together from Eyes 2 See Films
Thriving Together has enlisted teams to analyze data and identify best practices to ensure positive and cumulative change. They engage with district superintendents and are working to orchestrate interventions that can be scaled up for success in a broader sphere. And beyond creating programs that will engage students, Thriving Together also seeks systemic change – whether that relates to broader policy, education innovations, or otherwise.
One example of positive change is Express Enrollment Day – an effort aimed at high school seniors and their transition to community college. Working in conjunction with community college leaders, Thriving Together learned that high school students face many barriers to enrollment, ranging from difficulty navigating the paperwork to understanding deadlines. To address these issues, the team identified a day during the school year when seniors could focus on matriculation. Youth were transported to a local community college and given the opportunity to get help on paperwork, take placement tests and more. In the first year alone, more than 200 students voluntarily participated and most even registered for classes that day.
Within earlier grade levels, Thriving Together is seeking to improve third-grade reading skills. After identifying an elementary school with a suitable after-school program, the team set out to shift the culture of the program to be more learning focused. They brought in Playworks to aid in shifting the mindset and to help introduce a more structured program. Weekly observations showed a marked increase in positive behaviors and a decline in negative behaviors. The goal will be to introduce Experience Corps tutors who will apply specific interventions for literacy.
These are just a few of the Thriving Together initiatives that are impacting Phoenix-area students and boosting achievement. Improving educational outcomes is just one step to helping individuals overcome poverty, and their results-driven approach is sure to aid students in all of the schools participating.