Our community has been busy lately building villages, but not with lumber, hammers and nails. People in leadership roles, teachers and educators, students and parents have joined together with a singular focus on education.
For years, the United Way of Stanislaus County has concentrated its support on nonprofit programs serving many different needs specific to the basics for a good life: a solid education, sufficient income and good health.
"Children are our most valuable resource." Herbert Hoover
Last July the United Way of Stanislaus County's executive team and board of directors decided to take a new approach by narrowing our focus each year. Instead of helping to fund multiple programs in the areas of education, health and income, United Way will concentrate its efforts on one initiative with measurable results, a single focus that will have broader and more meaningful effects on our community.
Our goal for this funding cycle is education and to increase the high school graduation rate in Stanislaus County. This initiative will target students in seventh grade and focus on student engagement.
"America's future walks through the doors of our schools each day."
Mary Jean Le Tendre, educator
It's ambitious, but we believe through this new village of community partnerships we can help students and our county have a brighter future.
Determining this initiative has involved a long and thorough process. First we met with community leaders, school superintendents, teachers, students, representatives from city and county government, as well as leaders from local nonprofit organizations.
To determine what is necessary to reach our goal, United Way and our community partners organized eight focus groups to discuss what is needed to help a child be successful in school, the barriers to success and at what grade level do youth begin to struggle.
We met with four groups of students, two teacher groups, one group of experts and one group of young adults who dropped out of high school.
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Nelson MandelaThrough this process, along with research, we have identified three factors that are essential to a student achieving success in school:
Internal assets. Motivation, perseverance and self-gratification provide the character and sense of self needed to thrive, handle stress and reach goals.
Student engagement. Not everyone learns in the same way. We need to be creative in how we deliver lessons, and explain how they are relevant in the real world.
Family needs. When families lives aren't stable, students do not get the support they need and can be pushed into an adult role rather than a student.
Next on our agenda will be to define and align our collaborations and partnerships, one of which is the Stanislaus County Office of Education our village to determine our program, select an agency to deliver the program and begin putting this plan into action.
We will be sharing more details with you as this evolves. With your support we hope to continue building villages and strengthening our community.
"One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them "
Jean Vanier, philosopher
DiCiano is president and CEO of United Way of Stanislaus.
Only about 20 percent of a student's waking hours are spent in school, so out-of-school-time learning is a key part of the success equation.
Eighty-five percent of the brain's development happens before kindergarten.
The years between elementary school and high school are a key transition time when students build skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for high school success.
A successful transition into ninth grade, a year when many students are held back or drop out, is especially important to high school success.
Middle school students who are held back are seven times more likely to drop out, and 80 percent of students who repeat a class more than once are likely to drop out as well.
Middle grade years are a crucial time for social and emotional development. Students at this age are especially susceptible to risk factors that can heighten the chance of dropping out.
Many students in this age group experience negative attitudes toward school, social alienation and disengagement. Healthy academic and social engagement can make a difference by improving attitudes toward school.
Middle grade years are a time when fewer after-school opportunities are available for this age group, and more students are home alone after school.
Educators call the hours between 3 and 6 in the afternoon the "danger zone" for young adolescents, a time when they can get into trouble crime, teen pregnancy and substance abuse without supervision or other healthy activities.
United Way Worldwide report on education