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New Cradle to Career Community Report Cards Released!

Wed, 2015-07-29 13:56

Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN released their baseline report card in 2015.

Over the last few months, several StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members have released baseline or annual community report cards as a method to engage their communities and promote accountability for cradle to career collective impact work.

Community report cards share data reflecting the state of the community’s education system, as well as stories of how local partners are working together to improve outcomes for students. Each partnership takes their own creative approach to share their local narrative, commonly highlighted through:

  • Baseline and/or trend data for identified indicators
  • Information about the role of the partnership in the community and examples of action taking place on the ground
  • Stories of impact that bring data points to life and create a broader picture of a community’s progress

Check out some of the most recently released community reports below:

Eastside Pathways: Bellevue, WA

Eastside Pathways

Spartanburg Academic Movement: Spartanburg, SC

SAM Report

Learn to Earn: Dayton, OH

Dayton Report

E3 Alliance: Austin, TX

E3 Report

P16 Plus Council of Greater Bexar County: San Antonio, TX

P16Plus Report

Seeding Success: Memphis, TN

Seeding Success partnership in Memphis released their baseline report card in 2015.

RGV Focus: Rio Grande Valley, TX

RGV Report

See more Community Reports to learn about cradle to career partnership work in communities across the country.



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Two Communities Take a Step Closer towards Education Systems Change

Wed, 2015-07-29 12:59

The Sustaining gateway logo represents where a community is in the journey towards changing systems and improving outcomes for children.

Across the Cradle to Career Network, collective impact partnerships are building a civic infrastructure that unites stakeholders around shared goals, measures, and results in education, supporting the success of every child, cradle to career.

This month, we are excited to announce that Forsyth Promise in Winston-Salem, NC and Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative in Charleston, SC have made significant progress in this work, and have transitioned into the Sustaining gateway of StriveTogether’s Theory of Action.

The Theory of Action is a quality collective impact framework  approach to support communities as they build cradle to career civic infrastructure. Across this framework, there are four fundamental “gateways” which signal a partnership’s progress towards impacting local systems and improving student educational success. By crossing through each gateway, there is a greater likelihood for sustained impact and improvement over time.

Each gateway has been designed to focus on the different developmental stages a community goes through when working towards creating change. With that in mind, community partnerships are able to chart the path through the Theory of Action from “Exploring”, ”Emerging” and “Sustaining” through ”Systems Change” and ultimately Proof Point,” with sustained behavior change across the community and education outcomes improving year over year .

Today, 40 Cradle to Career Network members are in the Emerging gateway and 23 are in the Sustaining Gateway. Congratulations Forsyth Promise and Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative!


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Three Ways to Achieve Education Equity (Part 2 of 3)

Tue, 2015-07-28 18:29

Equity Fellowship participants share equity focused actions plans with peers for feedback.

Communities across the country are working to build a holistic approach to education equity through collective impact work. Through a nine-month equity fellowship with Just Communities and E3: Education, Equity & Excellence, and cradle to career partnerships in Dallas County, Texas; Columbia, Missouri; Red Wing, Minnesota; and Phoenix, Arizona, we have uncovered three key equity strategies:

  1. Raise awareness of equity to encourage a focus on eliminating locally defined disparities
  2. Apply tools to ensure actions, interventions and activities are undertaken equitably
  3. Sustain behavior change through policies and protocols to change systems

Last week, in part one of this blog series, we discussed key messaging to build awareness around equity. In part two of this three-part series, we outline different approaches to help move groups from talk to action.

When implementing any action to address equity, communities should pay careful attention to the various different impacts their interventions could have. Though we often act with good intentions, the actual result may not always match our desired outcome. The following tools and strategies can help cradle to career partnerships assess potential actions to ensure all potential impacts are considered:

  • Use the “Intent → Impact → Residue” framework developed by Just Communities: Throughout our work to change the education system, we must ensure the action we take does not perpetuate past inequities. Cradle to career partnerships can use the “Intent → Impact → Residue” framework to evaluate any proposed action through an equity lens. This approach calls for all stakeholders to take a step back and consider their own intentions, the potential impact of their actions, and the possible long-term systemic effects. Taking it a step further, engaging community members who will be impacted by a decision will ensure multiple perspectives are considered.
  • Focus on Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor (3Rs Framework developed by Bill Daggett): Daggett’s philosophy of education is built upon three basic principles: rigor, relevance and relationships. To break this down, when students can relate to their classwork because it is relevant to their personal lives, teachers can increase the rigor in their curriculum to meet their learning objectives. In addition, cultivating relationships with all stakeholders can open doors to support and resources that can mobilize change. This framework can be used to test the effectiveness of interventions outside of the school house also. The idea of maintaining strong relationships with community stakeholders, strategizing interventions that are relevant to local context and implementing a rigorous continuous improvement process (to ensure discipline and accountability) can help accelerate progress towards results.
  • Apply a Decision-Making Process to understand the impact of decisions (and who has a voice in making decisions). Cradle to career partnerships can practice authentic community engagement to ensure those who are impacted by a decision are involved in the decision making process. These are often the students, parents and families that the partnership is serving. We can only know if the new system we are creating is beneficial for all students, unless we engage all voices (or perspectives) at some point in the decision-making process. Without engagement, unanticipated negative impact on populations whose perspectives are not at the table is much more likely. E3: Education, Excellence & Equity developed the Power Analysis of the Decision Making Process Tool to assess the decision making power of those who are involved.
  • Apply the Critical Pedagogy Framework (CPF) to understand the different points of view engaged in the equity discussion. This tool, developed by E3: Education, Excellence & Equity, was inspired by the work of Dr. Alma Flor Ada’s and Dr. Paulo Friere’s concept of Critical Pedagogy that addresses issues of power, equity and social justice in education. Communities can use this tool to determine if the cradle to career partnership is even the right source for starting the conversation. Additionally, it can be used to help identify which existing relationships, perspectives and skill-sets are well-positioned to facilitate these discussions. CPF can also help analyze conflict to discover next steps to resolve issue(s) at play.

Getting to action is sometimes the hardest step to take when creating impact. Once you have people on board and things are starting to change…what’s next? Next week, we will explore ways to operationalize change into existing structures for long-term sustainability.

Meanwhile, we invite you to reflect on the strategies that you have planned or have implemented thus far. What approaches have worked? Are there opportunities to try something different? What insights emerge?


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Cradle to Career Communities Flex Results Based Leadership Skills

Tue, 2015-07-28 10:17

Post image for Cradle to Career Communities Flex Results Based Leadership Skills

Mobilizing collective action among leaders across sectors can sometimes be hard work. StriveTogether has been collaborating with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to help StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network communities build leadership capabilities to accelerate action towards results.

Last month, cradle to career partnership staff and local partners from seven communities [Baltimore Promise (Baltimore, MD), Excelerate Success (Spokane, WA), Milwaukee Succeeds (Milwaukee, WI), Portland ConnectED (Portland, ME), Raise DC (Washington, DC), South Bronx Rising Together (South Bronx, NY), and Thriving Together (Phoenix, AZ)] met at the Annie E. Casey Foundation headquarters in Baltimore, MD for a one-day training to learn and practice a mix of Results Based Leadership (RBL) competencies, frames and skills in the context improving outcomes from cradle to career.

RBL is an approach, developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, focused on helping leaders, organizations and groups move from intention to action for children and families. RBL is built on five core competencies, two foundational frameworks and two foundational skills. Throughout the training, participants applied the foundational skills of Results-Based Accountability, a method focused on differentiating between population and program level results, using data to develop high-impact strategies, and establishing ways to track if the work is making a contribution to results. Each community spent time exploring how a variety of perspectives can impact collaborative work to address disparities, identified how personal experiences and preferences impact how an individual responds in a group, and discussed how clarity of authority, role, and task can make or break a group’s progress.

Some participants were particularly drawn to the activities around using performance measures to track progress and drive improvement within a community. In RBL, performance measures answer three questions:

  1. How much did we do? (Quantity)
  2. How well did we do it? (Quality)
  3. Is anyone better off? What difference did we make? (Impact)?

Performance Measures

Using performance measures are helpful when assessing progress at multiple levels. It also helps to determine the impact strategies have on short term and long term goals. It’s hard to scale practices to improve outcomes for an entire community if you are unsure of the effectiveness and reach of your strategies. Performance measures can help decipher these details of scope and scale.

To close the day, each team made powerful action commitments to take the competencies, frameworks and skills of RBL back into their everyday work to improve outcomes for children. By integrating RBL into their work, these teams will be better positioned to move their cradle to career partnerships from vision to action to results.


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New IHEP guidebook helps communities use data to advance postsecondary attainment

Mon, 2015-07-27 10:48

IHEP Data Guidebook

Our colleagues at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) have launched “Driving Toward Greater Post-Secondary Attainment Using Data,” a tactical guidebook to support community-based collaborations on data use among key sectors. It is a fantastic new resource for the field, aimed at shining a light on how some local communities have overcome obstacles to use data effectively to advance postsecondary attainment.

We were pleased to partner with IHEP and Data Quality Campaign to develop an animation as a component to the guidebook. This short video highlights successful strategies for developing data sharing agreements and partnerships from our recently released data sharing playbook, Data Drives School-Community Collaboration: Seven Principles for Effective Data Sharing.

IHEP’s Tactical Guidebook also includes:

  • Fact sheets on national and voluntary data collections to learn where to find data
  • Interviews with community leaders about their data tools, including their intended purpose, lessons learned, and tactical advice on implementation and collaborative work
  • Manuals and templates to explain how to develop tools and to highlight how communities already are using them
  • Additional resources with examples of other tools and more information on their implementation

Whether you are interested in student-level or community-level data, the guidebook will be relevant. It provides insight into different data tools used to support students and improve educational outcomes, and how communities could potentially adopt these tools.


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The Power of Continuously Improving

Fri, 2015-07-24 12:54

Post image for The Power of Continuously Improving

Continuous quality improvement (CQI) has become a hot topic for many of us in the social sector.

While continuously improving seems like a rather easy concept to understand, CQI requires more than just acknowledging the significance of these words. Instead, it requires ownership of the concept by both individuals and communities.

I have learned the importance of internalizing CQI and bridging the gap between theory and practicality through our work leading a cohort of StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network communities working to apply CQI practices in their efforts to increase FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student aid) completions.

Project FAFSA launched in January 2015, with a goal of increasing FAFSA completion rates by four percent or an additional 2,220 students across seven participating cradle to career partnerships, including Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee; Bridging Richmond in Richmond, Virginia; RGV Focus in Rio Grande Valley, Texas; Mission: Graduate in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the Big Goal Collaborative in Northeast Indiana; the Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo in Michigan; and StrivePartnership in Cincinnati, Ohio / Northern Kentucky.

With support from Lumina Foundation, StriveTogether has been working with these communities to analyze key drivers impacting FAFSA completion rates, develop improvement action plans and measure progress in real time in order to improve. They joined us to dig deep, set goals and work collectively to not only increase FAFSA completion rates locally, but to embed a culture of continuous quality improvement within their own communities and partners.

Each of the seven communities has walked away with invaluable knowledge on how to continuously improve FAFSA completion rates. But, more importantly, they learned some key lessons that will help build a culture of continuous quality improvement in their communities:

  • Data does not always illustrate unidentified best practices, which can serve as valuable feedback on how to move forward in practical manners. During Project FAFSA, collective impact partnerships learned how to establish a collective goal, how to identify partners required for implementation, and how to navigate access to student level data.
  • Partnerships also gained valuable skills around embedding the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) process on both micro and macro levels, how to compel community wide ownership, and how to communicate their information.
  • CQI is about improving what you are already doing. It would be counterproductive to review results, make assumptions and move on to the next strategy. Modeling a culture of continuous quality improvement requires an intentional approach to studying how we implement strategies in real time. Communities engaged in Project FAFSA learned to be intentional about pausing to take a closer look at what they are doing that directly or indirectly affects our intended results.

As of June 30, 2015, FAFSA completion rates have increased by 1.8 percent across the cohort, with 26,816 FAFSA applications completed by the seven communities. While we must celebrate Seeding Success for achieving a 27 percent increase in Memphis alone, lessons learned throughout the collaborative speak volumes about the power of striving for improvement.

The natural tendency is to look at these results and assume that not much has changed. However, if we look a little bit deeper, it is clear that communities engaged in Project FAFSA can challenge this mindset. The power that comes from internalizing CQI lessons helps us bridge the gap between theory and practically.

To quote the very wise Thomas Edison, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” It is safe to say, the knowledge gained through Project FAFSA helps us all take another step in the right direction that is worth celebrating.

Photo: Maria Esther Rodriguez and Daniel Tesfay with RGV Focus share lessons learned during panel discussion on Poject FAFSA at the 2015 StriveTogether Post-Secondary and Career Success for Every Student Convening.


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Collective Impact + Pay for Success: Greater than the sum of their parts

Thu, 2015-07-23 09:56

Collective impact & Pay for Success

Communities across the country are finding new and innovative ways to improve outcomes for children, and work is anchored in results more than ever before. Across the social sector, we are looking less at starting new initiatives and more at identifying what is already working. More attention is on finding creative ways to focus limited resources on efforts with the potential to get the best possible social return on investment.

This is why collective impact and pay for success financing, such as social impact bonds, can be mutually beneficial. At StriveTogether, we believe communities can improve education outcomes through a disciplined and rigorous collective impact approach that uses data to identify and lift up what works. And according to Social Finance, a leader on social impact bonds, communities that take this disciplined approach can be ripe for pay for success financing mechanisms that align public dollars behind what works.

Collective Impact + Pay for SuccessI have no doubt that communities with the civic infrastructure required to achieve collective impact are uniquely poised to realize the promise of social impact bonds. And by combining the financing opportunity of pay for success with the convening power of collective impact, communities may accelerate their ability to create a shared vision across multiple sectors, shared accountability for moving outcomes and shared data to enable action.

Learn more about the intersections of collective impact and pay for success financing in a new paper from Social Finance and StriveTogether, “Collective Impact + Pay for Success: Greater than the Sum of their Parts.”  There is so much potential for these revolutionary approaches to work together and achieve better outcomes for kids.


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Three Ways to Achieve Education Equity (Part 1 of 3)

Mon, 2015-07-20 15:20

StriveTogether Equity Fellowship Meeting

Ensuring that every child has a fair chance at success requires a community-wide commitment to education excellence with equity. To achieve this, we need to change the systems that perpetuate persistent disparities in child outcomes. Cradle to career collective impact partnerships are uniquely positioned to drive this shift to ensure education results are improving on average AND that achievement gaps are eliminated.

Four StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnerships have come together to tackle this work head on in collaboration with StriveTogether, Just Communities and E3: Education, Excellence and Equity. As part of a nine-month equity fellowship, the Commit! Partnership (Dallas County, Texas), Cradle to Career Alliance (Columbia, Missouri), Every Hand Joined (Red Wing, Minnesota), and Thriving Together (Phoenix, Arizona) are learning how to make equity a core component of their work to improve educational outcomes for every child, cradle to career. [Read more about how the Commit! Partnership is focusing on equity in Dallas, Texas.]

Through this fellowship, three strategies have emerged for building a holistic approach to education equity within cradle to career collective impact work:

  1. Raise awareness of equity to encourage a focus on eliminating locally defined disparities
  2. Apply tools to ensure actions, interventions and activities are undertaken equitably
  3. Sustain behavior change through policies and protocols to change systems

In part one of this three-part series, we dig deeper into strategy #1 with ways communities can raise awareness of equity:

When addressing inequalities in student achievement, there may be a need to prioritize targeted interventions for particular populations. However, universal approaches are often favored over targeted ones, for fear of leaving some out. It’s necessary to bring awareness, and to make the case, that narrowing and focusing efforts could lead to greater impact for all.

To effectively engage in these conversations, consider the lenses (perspectives on how an individual sees the world based on life experiences, culture, ethnicity, etc.), triggers, comfort and preferences that your audience brings to the discussion. Universal messages that should be consistent across audiences to move equity from conversation to action are:

  • Equity isn’t equality: Understanding the difference between equity and equality can build support for targeted interventions or differential strategies based on kids’ unique needs. Equality is providing every child the exact same support. Equity is recognizing that children need different types of support and providing each child with what they need to succeed. Treating everyone equally may actually perpetuate inequity.
  • Achievement isn’t a zero sum game: “Excellence” is often positioned against “equity” as if they are opposing and mutually exclusive areas of focus. To garner support for equity, communicate that achievement is not a zero sum game. Intentionally supporting the achievement of a certain group of kids for which the system does not currently serve effectively does not have to result in decreasing achievement of higher performing students.
  • Equity isn’t different or additional work; it is our work: Equity is a lens through which to view every opportunity, decision or action. It’s not a body of work to be assigned to “equity experts,” it’s how the work is approached. For example, if a community is working to improve early grade reading, equity is an approach to determining all strategies – both universal and targeted. For example, consider:
    • Are the people impacted at the decision-making table?
    • What perspectives are we engaging to identifying strategies?
    • How will strategies impact different kids?
    • Do strategies address the root cause of the problem?
    • Do we have the experience to know the root cause of the problem?
    • Will strategies be culturally relevant to the students we are trying to serve?

Even though it is important to move from universal approaches to targeted approaches to achieve excellence with equity, this message can be difficult to communicate.

Consider the following when building awareness around equity:

  • Find the right messenger: Determine the right person to deliver the message. Identify those with trust, established relationships and credibility with the person or group being engaged.
  • Carefully consider timing: Often, multiple situations may converge in the community making it a prime opportunity to take action towards achieving equity. Capitalize on this moment.
  • Implement small tests of change: An effective way to grow support for equity work is by demonstrating that it works in your community with your kids. Implementing small-scale interventions around equitable strategies in a single program and communicating its impact is a great catalyst to garner support for large-scale equity work.

Equity fellowship participants are finding that building (and sometimes rebuilding) awareness around these key messages can change mindsets and accelerate action. However, moving towards action, even after engaging around equity, may not be easy. In part two of this blog series, we’ll explore approaches to move from conversation to implementation.

Meanwhile, we invite you to reflect on the strategies you have developed for improving outcomes for children in your community. What insights emerge?

Photo: Equity fellows discuss building a common language around what it means to embed equity into their work during an April meeting.


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Network in the News: Celebrating local partnerships, cradle to career work and dedicated volunteers

Thu, 2015-07-16 08:45

Roadmap Project Report Card

Throughout the last couple weeks, two cradle to career partnerships were included in local and national studies on graduation rates and workforce readiness. Another was recognized with a local community award. And yet another was featured in a story about a dedicated volunteer.

Celebrating all the amazing work throughout the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, here’s the latest Network in the News:

  1. Volunteers work with students through Step Forward: Mike Silva volunteers through Step Forward, a cradle to career partnership in Shreveport, Louisiana. At a local elementary school, he reads to Pre-K and third graders three days per week.
  2. Mission: Graduate recognized locally: The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce board of directors announced its annual awards. Mission: Graduate, a local cradle to career partnership, received the Chairman’s Award for Community Excellence.
  3. Road Map Project sets bar for large district-based improvement: A recent GradNation report explores the work of Road Map Project, a cradle to career partnership in Seattle. According to the report, Seattle school districts and Road Map Project are taking education into their own hands and using data to improve graduation rates.
  4. Big Goal Collaborative strives to meet growing workforce demands: Investment in employees is a weak link in Indiana, according to a new report by Ball State University. Big Goal Collaborative, a cradle to career partnership in northeast Indiana, works to increase the number of individuals with education beyond a high school degree.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our audiences, as well as all cradle to career partnerships throughout the country.

Read “Network in the News” every week for the latest local coverage of StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Partnerships. Check out our previous blogs to keep up-to-date with all the latest news.


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From “Dropout Factories” to Record Graduation in Tacoma, WA

Mon, 2015-07-06 16:11

Graduating Class of 2015 from Mt. Tahoma High School stretch out the Graduate Tacoma! flag

Guest post by Eric Wilson, President & CEO of Graduate Tacoma! in Tacoma, Washington.  

In 2010, just over half of Tacoma students were graduating. Front page headlines in USA Today pronounced Tacoma schools, “Dropout Factories.”  The incoming Superintendent declared the 55% graduation rate, “shameful.”

It was time for a bold, ambitious, Tacoma-built goal that represented the community’s high expectations for all students, shared responsibility with parents, educators AND community, and an unwavering belief in the potential of every child to succeed, regardless of background.  The “Graduate Tacoma!” movement was born.

Tacoma faced low graduation rates, a diverse and highly-mobile student population, and a recession that sent poverty levels surging from 48 to 64 percent in one decade. That same year the Foundation for Tacoma Students was founded to build and strengthen the community-wide movement to help every student achieve success from cradle to college and career.

Hundreds of citizens and organizations came together – parents and educators, early learning and higher education, youth and community service, business and labor, civic and philanthropic, local government and communities of faith. Together, we forged one clear and unequivocal goal:

By the Class of 2020, we will increase by 50 percent both the graduation rate of Tacoma Public Schools students and those who complete a college degree or technical certificate. Success will require measuring and closing gaps in access, opportunities and achievement for all students from cradle to college and career.

Today, over 150 community partners – from every neighborhood and sector of Tacoma – have joined Graduate Tacoma! Together, diverse community partners have identified and agreed to a common set of Student and Community Indicators that need improvement to reach the community’s shared goal. Three Collaborative Action Networks are developing collective, credible and transparent ways to measure progress and improve student outcomes:

Early Learning & Reading Network

The community recognizes we have lots of room to improve in early learning, but Tacoma has a unique opportunity to improve with new data. In 2012, Tacoma began assessing every entering kindergartener in six developmental areas: literacy; math; cognitive; language; social; and physical. We now track and disaggregate this data over time to help guide early learning strategies. The Network also joined the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, and focused early literacy efforts on parent outreach to specific communities with 90 percent free and reduced lunch and significant racial and ethnic diversity. Tutors provide one-on-one reading time with elementary students and books are mailed weekly to families this summer to expand access when school is not in session.

Out-of-School & Summer Learning Network

To combat the summer learning slide, Graduate Tacoma! launched a new website to increase access and build awareness of free or low-cost quality summer learning programs. It features 80 organizations and over 220 programs searchable by calendar, neighborhood, fee v. scholarships, and type of learning. Last year’s launch included over 26,000 searches and registered a 59 percent increase in summer program slots-filled at partner organizations over the previous year – 5,616 to 8,919. The Network also translates college support and summer learning materials for parents who do not yet speak or read English.

Reaching Higher – College Bound & Technical School Network

Just 25 percent of Tacoma adults hold a college degree, and local students are often first in their families to go to college. Cost is a major barrier with nearly two-thirds of students living in poverty. Each year, the Network and District successfully sign up nearly 100 percent of eligible students by the required middle school deadline for Washington’s College Bound Scholarship. Students who sign up, get into college, and maintain good citizenship are qualified for 4 years of college tuition-free. The SAT is now offered free to all Tacoma students. Participation has soared from 50 percent in 2010 to 83 percent in 2014. Students enrolling in college-eligible classes have also increased from 34 percent to 57 percent. Most significantly, college admission has increased from 33 to 43 percent and college completion has increased from 31 to 37 percent over the last three years.

It’s working. Tacoma is making steady student progress toward our shared goal. In just five years high school graduation rates for Tacoma students have risen from 55 to 78 percent – a record high for the District – surpassing the state average for the first time. Just as importantly, graduation rates among students in poverty have increased from 61 to 70 percent as well as significant gains among every racial demographic: Native American up 19.6 percent; Pacific Islander up 17 percent; Black up 14.4 percent, Asian up 13.9 percent; Hispanic up 9.5 percent; and White up 8.2 percent.

But we’re not there yet. The 50 percent community goal increase means Tacoma needs to reach an unprecedented 87 percent high school graduation rate and a 47 percent college and technical school completion rate by the Class of 2020. We know the climb ahead will only get steeper, the closer we get to our shared community goal. But together, Tacoma is striving for every child. WE WILL Graduate Tacoma!

Tacoma's graduating class of 2015

Tacoma’s graduating Class of 2015 celebrate in front of the iconic City Waterway and Cable-stayed Bridges and the Tacoma Dome – proudly flying the Graduate Tacoma! flag above the city skyline.


Eric Wilson, President/CEO, Foundation for Tacoma Students Eric Wilson is President & CEO of Graduate Tacoma! in Tacoma, Washington. Graduate Tacoma! is the community-wide movement to help every child achieve success from cradle to college to career. Graduate! Tacoma is a Sustaining member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, and is anchored by the Foundation for Tacoma Students.




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The Commit! Partnership Focuses on Equity in Collective Impact

Tue, 2015-06-30 10:23

April 2015 Empowering Oak Cliff community action meeting in Dallas, TX

Guest post by Kyle Gardner, Deputy Executive Director of The Commit! Partnership in Dallas, Texas. 


In the last two years, Dallas County, Texas early pre-K registration has increased by nearly 5,000, K-3 literacy proficiency rates in partner elementary schools have improved by 15 percent, and county priority-deadline FAFSA completion rates have risen by 4 percent. Together with education partners and collaborative action networks across Dallas County, the Commit! Partnership continues to implement regional campaigns, place-based strategies and systemic initiatives to improve educational outcomes.

Yet racial and economic disparities persist across Dallas County. For example, college readiness rates for White high school graduates are five to six times higher than their African American and Hispanic peers.

To gain tools to address these disparities and mobilize communities to drive change, Commit! and three other cradle to career communities are engaging in the inaugural StriveTogether Equity Fellowship, facilitated by E3 and Just Communities.

In May, we were introduced to the “3 Rs” framework from Bill Daggett with the International Center for Leadership in Education. This approach has inspired the Partnership to infuse equity into its strategies to drive student achievement, focusing on:

  • Rigor in content and expectations. It is the quality of thinking, not the quantity, and the core belief that rigorous learning can occur in any environment.
  • Relevance in application of core knowledge to address real problems in an authentic manner. Rigor without relevance can prevent some from actively pursuing knowledge or equip others to succeed only in certain environments.
  • Relationships between teachers and students or between organizations and families served. As one of our partners has succinctly stated, “Nothing moves without a touch.” Only after environments learn to cultivate mutual respect, honesty, responsibility and quality can collective impact lead to outcomes.

The Commit! Partnership is working to integrate each of these elements into its work. Here are a few examples of local efforts:

  • Rigor and Relevance: We are piloting a reading academy to provide professional development for grades K-3 teachers to introduce and reinforce quality early literacy instructional practices, including effective strategies to engage children from different backgrounds. After year one, all participants self-reported significant growth in their instructional effectiveness, and 14 of 19 participants saw greater in-year improvement in student literacy scores than teachers who were not a part of the pilot. The Dallas Independent School District (ISD) is now rolling out similar reading academies in additional feeder patterns in 2015-16, with supplementary coaching supports to improve instructional quality and raise student achievement.
  • Relationships: The Commit! Partnership is supporting a coalition of community-based and resident-led organizations with data and facilitation for action in Dallas ISD’s South Oak Cliff feeder pattern. The power of the collective and its multiple touches was demonstrated in a recent pre-K registration push, where a mass canvassing effort and celebratory event grew early pre-K registration by more than 115 students over the prior year, representing 45 percent growth. Building on this momentum, the coalition continues to expand. A June Empowering Oak Cliff meeting focused on deepening relationships between schools, nonprofits, grassroots organizations and residents to foster belonging and bring about truly collective impact. Incorporating the learning from the StriveTogether Equity Fellowship is especially relevant to this network.

As we continue to develop tools and knowledge through the Equity Fellowship, we will execute more elements of an equity-infused strategy for early literacy with core partners from Leadership ISD, Literacy Instruction For Texas (LIFT) and others, while integrating the knowledge, experience and momentum that Dallas Faces Race and others have initiated to mobilize Dallas County to face inequities and work for change.

Kyle Gardner, Deputy Executive Director, The Commit! Partnership

Kyle Gardner serves as Deputy Executive Director of the Commit! Partnership in Dallas County, helping guide strategy and operations for the backbone team. Previously Kyle was a consultant at The Bridgespan Group and ZS Associates and taught math in the classroom.




About The Commit! Partnership

Formed in 2012, the Commit! Partnership is a growing coalition of 160 different institutions, all with a vested stake in the educational outcomes of Dallas County’s ~750,000 students. The Partnership’s efforts are supported by a dedicated backbone staff of 17 individuals and over 120 community members serving on various councils guiding the work along the cradle-to-career continuum. The Commit! Partnership is a Sustaining member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.

Read our Story of Impact to Learn More:

Bringing people to the table to look honestly at student data: The Commit! Partnership rallies community-wide partners to improve education for students throughout Dallas County



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Unprecedented investment in Minnesota to support cradle to career collective impact

Wed, 2015-06-24 09:01

Cradle to career collective impact

According to the most recent U.S. Census, each year, United States taxpayers spend $591 billion on elementary and secondary education. Of those funds, 91 percent comes from local and state sources. This makes up the strong majority of all resources spent on educational improvement, followed by private philanthropy contributing about $5 billion annually.

This leads us to a very clear and undeniable conclusion: To change how we educate children at scale, we must change how funds flow from local and state sources.

The state of Minnesota just took a big step in this direction, providing a great example of how communities across the country can shift funding. As part of the new state K-12 education finance package, $5.8 million has been appropriated to support cradle to career partnerships across the state, in both rural and urban communities. The law provides $1 million over two years to be shared equally by three partnerships in “Greater Minnesota”–Red Wing, Northfield and St. Cloud—all members of the Strive Together Cradle to Career Network. Minnesota’s two urban Promise Neighborhood initiatives, the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis and the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, each will receive $1.2 million each year in annual operating grants.

This is the first time a state has invested heavily in the support of the backbone infrastructure that is such a critical component of collective impact. This means that legislators saw that investing a small amount of funds in the human capital and data management capacity needed to understand what education improvement initiatives work is critical to ensure a measurable return on investment.

Let’s be clear:  This investment by the state of Minnesota is unprecedented. Rather than simply investing in programs, the state will invest in ways to understand what programs can provide the best ongoing results. Over time, we will be able to answer the following question on an ongoing basis rather than just at the end of a long-term evaluation: What is working for kids and how can we build on it? The power of this to make sure the state gets the best possible return on investment is simply undeniable.

Here are a few insights that other communities can learn from to drive similar policy change:

  • Multiple communities from diverse geographic locations can have a powerful voice when they work together. The combination of rural and urban collective impact partnerships working arm-in-arm to influence legislation is invaluable. Partnerships in smaller communities outside the Twin Cities in Red Wing, Northfield, and St. Cloud came together with urban partnerships like Generation Next and the Promise Neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul to advocate not only for themselves, but for each other. This is the type of statewide coalition legislators rarely see and can draw a great deal of attention and support.
  • A central convening entity to guide and support the policy strategy is invaluable. Dane Smith and Maureen Ramirez at Growth & Justice*, a policy and research nonprofit which has long been supporting StriveTogether initiatives in Minnesota on advocacy work, played a critical role in helping to build and guide the overall work of the coalition in Minnesota. They acted as a critical component of the overall backbone function in helping to facilitate this work, modeling the concept of servant leadership.
  •  All partners modeled selfless advocacy to achieve a greater goal. The United Way, Generation Next, the Wilder Foundation and other partners advocated for resources for the community at large, instead of for their own. Getting individuals and organizations to put the interest of the broader effort ahead of their own is the true power of partnership.

We will draw more lessons from this outstanding example in the months to come. But for now, all the partners engaged in working with the legislature to get this win for the State of Minnesota should be celebrated across the Cradle to Career Network and the collective impact field at large. This legislation serves as a model to the nation for how public funding can be influenced to support the success of children.

*Growth & Justice is a research and advocacy organization based in St. Paul. They participate as members of the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success, based in the north-central part of the state and are in the third year of a project called the “Minnesota Statewide Student Success Movement,” supported by the Blandin Foundation. Growth & Justice has participated actively in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network on topics of rural partnerships and racial equity and have been a constant champion for the work of quality collective impact across the state. 


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“Not Knowing If We Are Making a Difference Is An Injustice”

Tue, 2015-06-23 10:17

It’s not about more new things. It's about a collective commitment to applying and scaling what works.

Recently, Hany White team spoke at an event in Burlington, North Carolina,  to a group of community partners interested in improving how they support the success of children at scale. A local reporter captured an interesting quote: “Not knowing if we are making a difference is an injustice.”

I so appreciated how succinctly summarized this point. While we have not always captured the thrust behind our work in this way, I do not believe it is an overstatement. The fact that we work every day with children on noble efforts without truly understanding our impact is indeed an injustice. It means we are not doing everything we possibly can to ensure their success. We are doing good without knowing if we are actually doing any good at all.

In a recent interview on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, President Obama was speaking directly to the injustice we are seeing play out all across our nation, most recently with the horrific tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. He could not have been more clear in his response. And as for moving forward together as a nation to respond effectively, he could not have been more direct: “I am less interested in having an ideological conversation than I am in looking at what has worked in the past and applying it and scaling up.”

This comment, gets right to the injustice Hany identified that we are trying to address through our work building cradle to career partnerships. We need to respond not by admiring the problem from afar, but by doing the very hard work of actually looking at what we are doing every day to see if it is having impact. It is messy. People can be wedded to their programs.

But the result is not the program. It should be about identifying and scaling those practices that work … and having the courage to call it out when they don’t.

The President went on in his interview with Marc Maron to focus on early childhood education. He said that effective early childhood education can help not only address the plague of racism, but change the trajectory of a child’s life economically. Unfortunately, he went on, that quality early childhood education “happens spottily … what hasn’t happened is us making a collective commitment to it.”

Once again, we need to take on the very difficult challenge of not starting more stuff, but identifying what works and doing more of it. If we know, as many Cradle to Career Network members have found and the President highlighted, that a qualified teacher in child development is the key, let’s find concrete ways to get more highly qualified teachers in more classrooms.

It’s not about more new things. It’s about a collective commitment to applying and scaling what works.

To do anything less is nothing short of an injustice.

Listen to the complete interview of President Barack Obama by Marc Maron.


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Network in the News: Building community, engaging stakeholders, creating action groups and raising funds

Tue, 2015-06-16 12:38

 Building community, engaging stakeholders, creating action groups and raising funds

From engaging the community and specific stakeholders, to creating new collaborative action groups, to finding new funding to support collective impact efforts, StriveTogether Cradle to Career partnership news runs the gamut throughout the past few weeks.

Here’s the latest Network in the News:

  1. Data is the driver for Albany Promise: The Albany Promise, a Cradle to Career partnership in Albany, New York, held its quarterly update for the community. Highlights include a new co-convener, a partnership with the Albany Policy Department, and its three target areas.
  2. Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative encourages community to step up for education: John Read, CEO Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative in Charleston, South Carolina, presented at the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber’s Monthly Morning Power Hour to encourage the entire community to focus on education.
  3. ImpactTulsa, United Way hear from Cincinnati collective on improving education: A StrivePartnership senior fellow visited ImpactTulsa to encourage local leaders to rethink how existing assets and funds can be leveraged to impact education outcomes.
  4. Mission: Graduate partners with Tri-County Juvenile Board to address truancy: Mission: Graduate and the local Juvenile Justice Board in Albuquerque, New Mexico, brought together the Torrance County Solutions-Oriented Truancy Working Group for the first time. The group will examine data, think through interventions and build programs to help lower unexcused absences for local students.
  5. All Hands Raised receives Bank of America Charitable Foundation Award: All Hands Raised will use the funding to implement a system to improve high school graduation, access to post-secondary education, and connecting 16-21 year olds to increased school and employment opportunities.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our audiences and the entire Cradle to Career Network.

Read “Network in the News” every week for the latest local coverage of StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnerships. Check out our previous blogs to keep up-to-date with all the latest news.


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No Blame, Just Responsibility and Results

Wed, 2015-05-20 20:00

President Barack Obama

“I’m not interested in blame. I’m interested in responsibility and I’m interested in results.”  – President Barack Obama

Something is happening. A movement is afoot. We can’t ignore the urgency anymore. And not only because of what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and Baltimore, Maryland. Our moral compass as a nation and the economic well-being of our country is at stake. We simply have to focus on closing opportunity gaps.

Two weeks ago, President Obama gave his personal take on this reality at the launch of the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance. This new nonprofit organization will focus on improving early childhood education, keeping black and Latino boys out of the criminal justice system, and on preparing young men to be more successful when entering the workforce. And, it will allow the president’s racial and social justice work to continue after he leaves the White House.

“By almost every measure, the life chances of the average young man of color is worse than his peers,” Obama said at the MBK Alliance launch. “Those opportunity gaps begin early — often at birth — and they compound over time, becoming harder and harder to bridge, making too many young men and women feel like no matter how hard they try, they may never achieve their dreams.”

I was honored to attend the MBK Alliance launch, and to see the President deviate from the script with heartfelt words that captured his commitment to this cause. He noted that he and the First Lady will remain focused on this long after his presidency. Their commitment, and that of all MBK partners, is driven by much more than a sense of charity.

“There are consequences to inaction,” Obama said. “There are consequences to indifference…They sap us of our strength as a nation.”

During his remarks, it was clear that the President is focused more on the result than some ideology on how to get there. He spoke about the reality that we work in silos while blaming each other, instead of partnering in communities to take individual and collective responsibility for moving the dial on our most pressing outcomes. Nothing could be more powerful.

Communities across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network are focused every day on results. Instead of getting buried in opinions and perceptions, they are using real data to determine which programs and services can lead to sustained improvement. They are working to keep the entire community focused on what matters most: the children behind each and every data point.

Where will this take us? At a recent convening of over twenty of the national Cradle to Career Network members who are all focused on issues of race and equity, one key point emerged that is an example of the type of issues we will have to work through: If we take responsibility collectively for moving outcomes, we will have to confront the difference between equality and equity.

Equality vs. Equity

Equality is everyone getting the same thing regardless of what they may need. Equity means people get exactly what they need to achieve the desired result. Focusing on equality may seem fair. But if we want to take responsibility for results, we will have to not just acknowledge, but own that different kids need different supports to succeed… And we simply have to allocate resources accordingly.

We have challenging conversations and difficult decisions ahead of us. My hope and my belief is that communities that have created cradle to career partnerships will have established the trust necessary to move courageously toward equity. And, as the President said, communities will model how to stop placing blame and start focusing on responsibility and results.


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Network in the News: Improving attendance, increasing graduation rates, building collaborative groups and more

Wed, 2015-05-20 09:11

E3 Alliance hosts College Signing Day in central Texas

Last week must have been a busy one for Cradle to Career partnerships throughout the country, because this week’s Network in the News is extra-long. But we’re not very sorry about it. In fact, we’re pretty excited.

Here’s this week’s “Network in the News:”

  1. DHS caseworkers keep school desks filled: In Portland, Oregon, Department of Human Services case workers are being placed at six public schools to work directly with families. All Hands Raised is helping with this effort, with the goal of improving attendance rates.
  2. Tacoma schools announce record percentage of students receiving diplomas in 2014: Tacoma School District administrators and staff are celebrating a record high graduation rate this year.  Graduate Tacoma, in Washington, is helping the community pull together to find mentors and tutors, offer internship opportunities and help prepare students for graduation.
  3. College presidents form coalition to address Lowcountry workforce demand: There’s a new coalition in Lowcountry, South Carolina. Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative is working with leaders from seven local colleges to align their degree programs with the needs of the region’s future workforce.
  4. Out of work and school, Boston’s youth have new place to go: Boston youth now have a new place to go to connect to jobs, skills training, education and other opportunities. The Connection Center, is geared toward youth ages 16 to 24, and is part of the broader efforts of Boston Opportunity Agenda, the local cradle to career partnership.
  5. University-Bound Seniors Celebrated at College Signing Day: The E3 Alliance in central Texas hosted a College Signing Day, which received news coverage from the local PBS affiliate. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro was also in attendance.

  6. Broadcast coverage: Thriving Together in Arizona was featured in these two news broadcasts, explaining their work in the community.

As always, if your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our audiences and the entire Cradle to Career Network.

Read “Network in the News” every week for the latest local coverage of StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnerships. Check out our previous blogs to keep up-to-date with all the latest updates:


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What happens after high school graduation?

Wed, 2015-05-13 20:00

Post-Secondary & Career Success for Every Student Convening

By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require education and training beyond high school. But 79% of Americans do not think that education beyond high school is affordable for everyone.

These sobering stats from the Gallup-Purdue Index highlight just one of the major barriers to college and career success that students are facing across the country. Even when students can afford college, they often graduate without the skills that employers say they need. While 96% of Chief Academic Officers believe students are leaving college prepared for success in career, only 11 percent of business leaders agree.

How can we help students overcome these barriers?

More than 100 individuals from 21 states and D.C. came together in Columbus, Ohio, this week to talk about collective impact strategies to improve college and career results. Communities across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network are focusing more and more on ways to improve college and career success, and our Post-Secondary and Career Success for Every Student Convening provided a venue to share knowledge, dig into the data and explore new strategies.

The theme across our discussions this week was clear:  To improve college and career outcomes, communities need to constantly look at data, measure the impact of their programs, and adjust based on what they learn every day. And, communities are doing this today with the help of traditional continuous improvement practices.

Recognizing that completing the financial aid process is a key driver for post-secondary enrollment, Seeding Success in Memphis, Tennessee, Bridging RVA in Richmond, Virginia, and RGV Focus in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, took the stage this week in Columbus to talk about how they are using continuous improvement practices to increase FAFSA completions. These three cradle to career partnerships, along with StrivePartnership in Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky; Mission: Graduate in Albuquerque, New Mexico; the Big Goal Collaborative in Northeast Indiana; and the Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo are working together on what we call “Project FAFSA.”

With support from Lumina Foundation, our team has been working with these communities since January 2015 to help them analyze key drivers and demographics impacting FAFSA completions, develop targeted action plans and measure the impact every step of the way to see what is working. The seven communities developed a shared goal to collectively increase FAFSA completions by 1,410 across seven communities by June 30, 2015.

While the goal of this is to ensure 1,410 more students have the potential to afford college, the impact of this work will extend well beyond this year’s graduating class. The partnerships are building their capacity to use data and continuously improve student and family supports, leading to better cradle to career results for all students. And, they are changing the culture in their communities with every conversation and data review meeting.

As Mark Sturgis with Succeeding Success said during this week’s sessions, “It is not just about the FAFSA. It’s about sustaining accountability and culture change in the community.”

#PrepareForCareer: Read our Storify roundup of social media posts from the 2015 Post-Secondary & Career Success for Every Student convening:

[View the story "Post-Secondary & Career Success for Every Student Convening" on Storify]


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Network in the News: Opinion columns, fundraising efforts and a report card launch

Tue, 2015-05-12 10:25

Spartanburg Academic Movement Report Card

In this week’s update, we have a new report card, community fundraising efforts and opinion columns. Plus, we have a successful community event to celebrate graduating seniors, which is perfectly timed with Kid President’s new video, “Dear Grads” (a must-watch, if I do say so).

Here’s this week’s “Network in the News:”

  1. Spartanburg Academic Movement, the local cradle to career partnership, launched its new report card this week. Read more in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal about this progress report. The partnership’s executive director also authored this op-ed about embracing academic achievement.
  2. The director of Achieve Brown County, thecradle to career partnership in Green Bay, Wisconsin, explore equity in this this op-ed in the Green Bay Gazette.
  3. Hundreds of students packed a gym in Central Texas last week to commit to college at an event organized by E3 Alliance, the local cradle to career partnership. Read more about the event in the Austin American-Statesman.
  4. May 7 was the first-ever “Spartanburg County Day,” encouraging people to donate online to local groups during a 12-hour timeframe. Nineteen people donated to Spartanburg Academic Movement, the local cradle to career partnership, raising $12,610. Read more about the day of giving.

And as Kid President says, “Be your own Beyoncé.” Keep up the good work.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our audiences and the entire Cradle to Career Network.

Read “Network in the News” every week for the latest local coverage of StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnerships. Check out our previous blogs to keep up-to-date with all the latest updates:



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Network in the News: From California to Ohio (and In Between)

Wed, 2015-05-06 09:01

Cradle to career network in the news

This week, we’ve got almost twice the updates for local Cradle to Career Network partnerships from California to Texas to Ohio (and in between).

Here is this week’s installment of “Network in the News:”

  1. City Heights Partnership for Children, the cradle to career partnership in San Diego, worked with the United Way and San Diego Unified School District to establish an early-warning system for students. The “Early Warning Continuum” started this school year in an effort to identify and provide personalized intervention to students who frequently miss school, fall behind academically or demonstrate behavior problems. Read about the program in this article by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
  2. The P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, based in San Antonio, Texas, celebrated Destination College throughout April 27 to May 1. Destination College is a week-long celebration of the college-bound and career-ready in San Antonio from elementary school through high school and beyond. Read more in their published piece with the Rivard Report.
  3. Treasure Valley Education Partnership in Idaho has been selected as one of 20 groups throughout the nation to receive a Lumina Foundation grant. Read more in the Idaho Business Review.
  4. Mission: Graduate is mentioned in this article about a student’s success in graduating from college based on combined efforts from community organizations. The local partnership in Albuquerque has a mission to add 60,000 extra degrees to central New Mexico by 2020. Read more in the Albuquerque Journal editorial.
  5. The superintendent of Kettering City Schools in Dayton, Ohio, reflects back on the school year, mentioning Learn to Earn Dayton as a wonderful partnership to the school throughout the year. Read the complete column by the superintendent in the Dayton Daily News.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our audiences and the entire Cradle to Career Network.

Read “Network in the News” every week for the latest local coverage of StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network partnerships. Check out our previous blogs to keep up-to-date with all the latest updates:


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Your words have power

Tue, 2015-05-05 13:22

Remember that you have something to offer that no one else in this world could ever give

When I was in the 6th grade, I had a minor altercation with a classmate. Mrs. Ross, my 6th grade math teacher, witnessed the argument and interrupted us before things escalated. She pulled me aside and began lecturing about my behavior.  

“Your words have power,” she said. “And remember that you have something to offer that no one else in this world could ever give. Do not allow a moment like this to be the reason why you won’t be able to share your gifts and talents. You could save someone’s life one day. Your words have power, so be mindful of what comes out of your mouth because those same words will eventually become your behaviors and actions.”

After our talk, I found myself making an effort to be more cognizant of my reactions.

Mrs. Ross was not an ordinary teacher. She was stern, but with reason. She took the time to acknowledge your strengths, while challenging each of her students to be better every day. She did not limit her job to the classroom. She was “that” teacher that many students were fearful of, but also respected and often went to for advice.

Self-worth is revealed during a youth’s elementary and high school years. And, given the many opportunities an instructor has to interact with students, a teacher has a unique and major role in validating and shaping the way we think and react. Having a caring adult committed to giving more, both inside and outside of the classroom, is critical to every child’s life.

I want to send my appreciation to all teachers like Mrs. Ross. The extra time and thought you put into your students’ development does not go unnoticed. If it wasn’t for Mrs. Ross, I may not have not realized the gifts I have to offer.

In my role at StriveTogether, I support communities across the country that are working towards improving their local education systems. Each time I visit a new community, or work with them on the phone, I am reminded about how powerful words can be and the influence we, adults, can have in not only changing one student’s life, but the lives of millions of youth across the country.


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