The Community Foundation of Broward has made the largest grant in its 34-year history -- $3 million to be matched by Broward County Public Schools to create a fresh new approach to address the social, emotional and academic needs of isolated, struggling middle school students. With recent events showcasing what could happen when students aren’t connected to teachers and peers within the formative middle school grades, the Community Foundation and its Fundholders were compelled to act.
Middle school is the critical “pivot point” where students either get on track toward graduation or enter a downward spiral toward dropping out. Fortunately, the Foundation had been in a long-standing partnership with the School District on an initiative called School is Cool – addressing absenteeism, behavioral issues, and low course performance in reading and math. “Student learning isn’t possible if they aren’t present – physically, mentally, and emotionally,” said Dan Gohl, Chief Academic Officer of Broward County Public Schools.
“We need to deepen our commitment to the most alienated kids so that they don’t disengage – we can change them in ways that will benefit the life they will lead beyond school," according to Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. "It takes a village to help today’s youth and our partnership with the Foundation and their Fundholders allows us to pilot a program for system-wide effectiveness.”
The earlier work between the Foundation and the District showed that lower performing students are often isolated, and isolation leads to alienation. The students then begin to resent school because it’s a constant reminder of their academic challenges and troubled peer relationships. Unaddressed, this can lead to self-destructive behavior and social issues, of which we are now all too familiar following the Parkland tragedy earlier this year. This new phase of School is Cool aims to break the cycle of isolation for struggling students and move them toward success in school - and in life.
“This is an excellent example of how private philanthropists work with the Community Foundation of Broward to create a lasting impact on Broward’s students and our entire community," said Linda Carter, CEO/President of the Community Foundation of Broward. "This is big thinking, and it’s the result of a sustained commitment to get to the heart of a problem and solve it for good.”
Over the next three years, the $3 million Community Foundation grant will enable the District to bring 20 additional staff into 10 middle schools to provide social/emotional and intense academic support to lower performing students, who are likely to slip under the radar because they aren’t defined as “special needs” or “gifted” – they’re students who are simply “caught in the middle.”
Individual learning plans will be created for each student, so they get the personalized attention they desperately need. Isolation and disengagement will be addressed through peer-to-peer mentoring, enhanced connections with teachers and counselors, and involvement in external activities through connections with Broward nonprofits.
The District will continue to refine this approach over the next three years with the goal to self-fund and roll-out the initiative to all of Broward’s middle schools. By 2021, the way middle school education is delivered in Broward will be forever changed – for the better.
Steven W. Hudson, Chairman of the Community Founcation Board of Directors added, “This significant grant was awarded after many months of research by the Foundation and the District. It was made possible because of the many individuals who established endowed Funds at the Foundation with instructions to solve our community’s most important issues, especially those that impact Broward’s children. This work will have far reaching impact, and these Funds made it happen.”