Wake County leaders in business, government, and education assembled on N.C. State University’s campus Thursday to create strategies to prepare youth for success after high school. The university’s college of education hosted the Action Summit, which was birthed from last year’s event on disrupting poverty through education.
“Poverty remains the single greatest challenge facing education — that they shouldn’t lose sight of that context,” said Mary Ann Danowitz, dean of the college of education. The summit, she said, is a way to “unify and intensify efforts to bring change,” helping to lift many students out of poverty through postsecondary success.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Warwick Arden built on the idea that education should be a vehicle for equal opportunity, no matter a student’s background or socioeconomic situation. Arden said he grew up in a small town in rural Australia but attended public schools that were of the same quality as the schools in the wealthiest areas in Sydney.
“Quite frankly, both here in North Carolina, and just about every state in the country, we have to start stepping up and thinking about public K-12 education as a equitable right irrespective of where you live across the country” Arden said.
Although the event focused on Wake County, Arden made sure to mention other struggling parts of the state.
“This isn’t just an intra-urban issue,” Arden said. “There are crumbling rural infrastructures and crumbling tax bases all across this state and other states, and we’re going to perpetuate the cycle of low educational attainment and poverty unless we do something about that.”
Two Wake County students, Shaquan Carroll, a senior at Heritage High School, and Odiee Anazleh, a junior at N.C. State, presented their stories of how public education helped propel them onto promising paths.
Carroll said that just last year he struggled in school and considered himself a bully. Through the help of a mentor, he started to turn around his behavior, showed interest in college for the first time, and created a peer mentoring group in his school.
“I know most of you are wondering, ‘How did this kid just change?'” Carroll said. “Well, I believed in the people who believed in me. My number one lack (of) concern about education was lack of belief in myself.”
Anazleh spoke about how adults in his life, like his uncle and Wake County teachers, helped him become a first-generation college student. He did so after a serious lung surgery in 2014.
The conference was designed around the concept of collective impact, or the idea that people from different backgrounds work together to fix a large problem. In this case, the broad goal of postsecondary student success was broken down into four subgoals, and those in attendance were broken up into four groups to tackle each item:
- Increase access to effective out-of-school activities or service-learning opportunities, such as tutoring, mentoring, skill-building, self-advocacy, time management/organization, and growth mindset.
- Increase awareness, access, utilization, and assessment of college and career readiness resources.
- Develop and expand extended learning opportunities to include nontraditional learning, summer and intersession learning and alternatives to suspension to reduce learning loss and address diverse learning needs.
- Promote and enhance parent engagement to ensure student success.
Facilitators in each session guided participants in creating strategies to accomplish the action items, and metrics to measure the success of each strategy.
But first, they asked “Why?” In the first group, focused on providing more access to out-of-school activities or service-learning opportunities, attendees said lots of schools do not provide as many extra-curricular options, like art, music, and sports, due to budget cuts. The value of service and out-of-school opportunities showcase another type of intelligence and brilliance that often doesn’t have a chance to flourish during the school day, another said.
“What happens before and after school is as important as what happens during the school day,” said Tremaine Brittian, director of advising in the college of education. Brittian added that at-risk students are often those who need out-of-school support and are not getting it.
The group selected four strategies by voting on the best ideas that resulted from the smaller break-out groups:
- Take programs to the community — in faith-based organizations, libraries, and community centers where students can attend and feel comfortable.
- Have students who have participated in programs talk about their experiences with their peers.
- Create an online (and print) resource that highlights all local out-of-school opportunities for youth.
- Develop/build partnerships with local businesses to increase collaboration, share resources, cross-promote, secure transportation needs, and establish an apprenticeship model.
The diverse combination of perspectives gave value to the conversations. One small group had representatives from the City of Raleigh, the Marbles Kids Museum, and Wake County Acceleration Academies, a program that helps drop-out high school students catch up.
The City of Raleigh employee shared that many disadvantaged students are not reached because their parents do not have emails to sign up to receive fliers about events and programs. The Marbles representative talked about how the museum’s summer camps reserves extra seats so that they do not immediately fill only with families who have the resources to know about the opportunity first. The Wake County Acceleration Academics employee shared that after they receive the list of students who dropped out in Wake County, they look up addresses and go door-to-door. She said the tactic is effective.
The conversation also centered on how organizations could work together to reach underserved children. For example, when Wake County Acceleration Academies goes and knocks on a door, the spokesperson can also mention after-school programs provided by the City of Raleigh.
Brittian asked participants to commit to carrying out these strategies and shared the next steps in the collective impact process.
In April or May, an action team meeting will meet with those who promised to stay involved from the summit to talk about how to move forward. In August, the college will hold a workshop for leadership in collective impact. And in March 2018, a one-day conference will bring participants together again to share lessons.
Jose Picart, a senior faculty fellow at the Friday Institute, said he feels there are often forums and events that result in good ideas, but nothing ever happens.
“Then we come back again and we have the same conversation,” Picart said.
He said the idea of this summit is for a group of people to agree on just one thing, and to commit to it. In other words, they will devise an action plan and carry it out.
“Then we’re making a difference,” he said.