When you’re at the same conference as Retired Gen. Colin Powell; his wife, Alma Powell, chairwoman of America’s Promise Alliance; 240 educators, philanthropists, business & civic leaders and impassioned citizens; and your keynote speaker is Bill Clinton, you know you’re at something important. THIS WORK MATTERS.
Tom and I were recently invited to attend a conference put on by Say YES To Education and America’s Promise Alliance. These organizations are among the largest in helping to make post-secondary education attainable for all. The culmination of our conference was the announcement of a new collaboration between them called The Weiss Institute. The Wall Street Journal ran an article describing the new partnership. (The article is also available here.)
Our first day was with Say YES To Education (SYTE), sharing their strategies and best practices. In particular, Promise programs need to be COMMUNITY driven. Data sharing, reciprocal obligations and public commitments are imperative for success. We heard from a panel of college presidents who emphasized the significance of investment in their students in the form of financial aid, persistence support and mentoring. Dr. Alex Johnson, President of Cuyahoga Community College, expressed the importance of getting younger children involved in the arts and their community, keeping them more engaged in school.
We explored a Case Study on the SYTE Buffalo Promise program, led by Dr. Jim Honan, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University. Again, the collaborative impact of community coming together is the main ingredient for success. Here are a few highlights from this panel:
- Community Stakeholders must be patient in looking at results. While graduation, attendance and discipline have significantly improved, this is a cultural shift and takes time to infiltrate the system.
- Creative reallocation of state and federal dollars. For example, access to family needs programs are IN every school, removing the transportation barrier.
- Community stakeholders are around a table every 2-3 weeks, solving problems.
At the end of a very informative day, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance.
Our second day was with America’s Promise Alliance and with several expert panels, including discussions on The State of the American Dream, Place and Belonging, Pathways in Learning & Working, and hearing from young adults who have benefited from Promise programs. Of particular interest were:
- The “Five Promises” of appropriate developmental resources for youth. These can be used as a guideline for the work of improving the culture of education in Akron. Programs offered should help to achieve at least one of the five promises. Each of the five promises should be addressed comprehensively.
- Private Sector Public Commitment, discussing “Conscientious Capitalism” (choosing to follow a business strategy, in which they seek to benefit both human beings and the environment).
- The Power of Relationships
- Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Pediatrician, Founder & CEO, Center for Youth Wellness spoke about a study on the neurological effects of adversity on brain development in children: If children can’t transform or process their pain, they will transfuse it to others.
- The more relationships a child has, the more ‘buffers’ exist to help diffuse emotional distress.
- Studies have shown that elementary-age students who participate some kind of Arts program (dance, singing, instrumental music, etc.) can better transform their “toxic stress”, are less likely to have discipline problems and more likely to be successful in school.
- More information can be found in this brief published by Harvard University,
- a call to action by Colin and Alma Powell and by former President Bill Clinton, in his keynote speech.
This blog post doesn’t include everything we saw, heard or learned, but the continuous theme of our two-day conference was that THIS WORK MATTERS. Since 2008, less than 1% of all jobs have gone to people without post-secondary education. It is urgent for us ALL to do what we can to help our kids get through school successfully, and onto the appropriate post-secondary education that leads them to a fulfilling career.
Akron Promise is currently working to bring the Weiss Institute to Akron to explore what we can do together to improve the culture of education for our community.
Daralee “Dee” Ghinder