learn / 2014

Thinking about Tomorrow is making School Cool!

Thinking about Tomorrow is making School Cool!

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Thinking about Tomorrow

@Thinkingabout2morrow reaches out to ALL students to promote & #encourage #ImportanceOfEducation! #MakeAttendanceAPriority #LA2050

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Our “School is Cool” initiative is designed to help our students develop a love of education and adopt the tools needed to thrive in and out of the classroom. We give students the supplies they need to build confidence. We reward students with incentives for perfect attendance, encouraging them to come to school every day. We show kids that college is an achievable dream and give them something to reach for.

Our programs challenge kids to be at school daily and demonstrate the importance of teamwork. This approach involves building strong school and community partnerships, early outreach to families, educating parents about the importance of regular school attendance and targeting students who are chronically absent.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

In 2011, TaT launched our “School is Cool” initiative targeting at-risk students enrolled in local public schools. Since it’s launch, TaT has been committed to engaging parents, students, school staff, and community members toward a common vision of graduation for all students! Unfortunately, while there is a significant need for attendance improvement services and support throughout all of LAUSD, limited program funding requires our initiative to focus on the highest risk (Title 1) schools. By motivating and teaching students to value the importance of attendance, we believe we can help bridge the gap between the educational inequities that currently exist.

There are several components to the “School is Cool” initiative:

  • “Back to School” Supply Drive: We provide backpacks, to students, filled with school supplies for an entire year. We have partnered with the LA Dodgers to deliver 2,500 backpacks to kids we work with in the school and invite their families to enjoy a day at Dodger Stadium, totaling approximately 5,000 people.

  • “We’re All Here” Attendance Improvement Program: We encourage at-risk students to come to school every day by celebrating excellent and perfect attendance; every day, week, month and year. Our partnership with the LAUSD and the APSAC (Association of Pupil Services and Attendance Counselors) allows us direct contact with every student in their respective school.

As part of the program, counselors meet and greet every student every morning welcoming them to school. Every week we reward the class with the best attendance in each grade and celebrate by giving out small, but fun prizes like stickers for the younger kids and pens, pencils or mini erasers for the older kids. Every month we reward students with perfect attendance to enjoy lunch with the principal. We invite their families to join in. We take advantage of the opportunity to speak with these parents about the importance of coming to school every day. Every semester, every student who has had excellent or perfect attendance can win a major prize such as movie tickets, gift cards, board games, iPod shuffles and bicycles. The student with the best attendance in each school receives a wifi tablet at the end of the year.

  • “Kids on Campus” Program: We invite students to join us every April for private tours of local universities along with a personal Q&A provided by former students, athletes and professors.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

It’s a fact that students who attend school consistently are more successful in school than students who do not. That may seem obvious, but what’s less obvious are that the consequences of low attendance are serious for all children and their community. Did you know that every year, over 1 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone? That’s one student every 26 seconds, or 7,000 students a day. Students who are frequently absent fall behind in academics and miss important socialization concepts that enhance their ability to understand and follow directions and, ultimately, plan for the future. As students fail to graduate from high school, the number of educated and skilled workers in the job market also decreases, leaving holes in the workforce economy. In addition, state financial support for schools is directly linked to student attendance. When students are absent the school loses money.

Since 2011, TaT’s “School is Cool” initiative has supported high-need LAUSD schools to provide positive support and increase the percentage of students attending school in Kindergarten and Grade 9. While we believe that ALL grade levels (K-12) are vital to success, these grade levels have the lowest overall attendance rates in the District. Excessive absence in these critical transition grades has a strong correlation with lower academic achievement and graduation rates. Regular school attendance is an integral part of the learning process and the means to graduation with a good education. Children who develop good attendance habits in the early grades will be more likely to continue them throughout their school career and ultimately into their adult working life. Through these programs, students have become more proficient in core subjects, have shown successful transitions into middle and high school, and are more college/career ready. The communities in which we operate have also seen remarkable improvements in areas such as school truancy and high school graduation rates among others. Schools that employ a challenging curriculum and reinforce high expectations for academics, behavior, and social responsibility, are schools that give students motivation to attend. Our initiative provides the students with a sense of empowerment and a feeling of success, not only essential for academic achievement, but imperative for the growth and development of their future. That’s why we believe that teaching children to value education is so important!

Whom will your project benefit?

Currently, students living at or below the poverty line lack access to sufficient school supplies, and budget cuts to our school systems leave schools and teachers unable to provide these at risk children with the necessary items. It’s estimated that 16 million kids in the US will return to school this year without the supplies they need. The burden is being placed on both the students and the teachers to fulfill these needs, neither of whom have the resources to fill the gap.

In partnership with LAUSD, Thinking about Tomorrow is directly addressing this crisis facing our community. Our “School is Cool” initiative hopes to encourage all students, grades K-12, to continue attending school consistently and to value the importance of education. Working directly with LAUSD’s Title 1 schools with the most number of at-risk students will create an environment were students can focus on learning, teachers can focus on teaching, and families can focus on providing the love and support that each child needs to thrive. Our initiative provides positive support to both students and teachers by providing backpacks fully loaded with required supplies to fostered and sheltered students. By supplying these necessities, we directly influence each student’s ability to fully participate in the learning process and give them the tools they need to succeed. In addition, the backpacks also provide support for the teachers who often carry the burden of providing for their students basic educational needs rather than focusing on providing a rich and nurturing learning environment. It is proven that children without proper school supplies have lower attendance rates and are more likely to perform poorly in school, and eventually drop out.

Having access to the school supplies students need to achieve well in school helps keep kids focused and learning at school. Our project’s support brings vital opportunities to high risk fostered and sheltered students, providing a way for continuous education and critically needed educational stability. In doing so, we believe we can effect positive change in their own communities.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Over the years, TaT has established many community partners along the way, but none have been as integral to the success of our “School is Cool” initiative as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Keystone Press, Build-a-Bear, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Ralph’s and Panera Bread. Together, we have built a solid foundation around shared values focused on improving our communities today, for tomorrow.

Our partnership with the LAUSD and the APSAC (Association of Pupil Services and Attendance Counselors) allows us direct contact with every student in their respective school. This gives us an opportunity to work with every student everyday. It also gives us access to over 400 volunteers willing to do what they can to help students achieve in school.

Our partnership with the LA Dodgers creates a huge opportunity for at-risk students as well as their families. Through our program, students with excellent and perfect attendance throughout the year are invited to Dodger Stadium to enjoy a day at the ballpark. Free tickets for the family, $10 vouchers to be used for (food), hats, pennants and tshirts provide the ultimate experience for our students and their families! This past year, we celebrated attendance with over 20,000 at-risk students in 28 of LAUSD’s schools.

Keystone Press is another highly significant partnership that provides TaT with our perfect and excellent attendance certificates given to students for consistent attendance. Keystone also provides the certificates of appreciation and all other promotional materials for TaT, including brochures and one-sheet printouts. In total, we’ve handed out over 50,000 certificates for attendance!

Through our partnerships with Build-a-Bear, Walmart, Kroger, Ralph’s and Panera Bread, our program challenges our students weekly, monthly, and annually by providing constant motivation through various in-kind and monetary donations. These businesses provide a wide variety of incentives and rewards for each eligible student.

Above all, one of the most critical factors to the success of our organization’s message is the ability to reach as many members of our community as possible. It is often difficult to offset the costs of promotional advertising and we are grateful to our sponsors who provide opportunities to help cover the costs of such materials.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Percentage of children enrolled in early education programs
  • Percentage of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index scores
  • College matriculation rates
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher education institutions, and the workforce) (Dream Metric)
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Truancy rates in elementary and middle school (Dream Metric)
  • Students perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Our “School is Cool” initiative is a prime example of how to positively influence and encourage at-risk students to value education! Along with our programs targeted to motivate all students to achieve academic success, we reach out to the entire community promoting the importance of building a positive school environment. This, in turn, promotes academic achievement with the end result of high school graduation, college and career readiness.

So far, our program has demonstrated significant improvements in Proficient/Advanced attendance rates at the school wide, K-12, level including both gender and ethnicity. Involving families and members of the community helps to create an overall excitement and buzz among the students and their schools! In the past, we’ve been able to donate laptops to students graduating from high school who pursue a college education and we have currently added a reward for perfect attendance with wireless tablets that are PERFECT for continued learning while away from school. Creating the desire to learn by providing opportunities for at-risk students to win cool prizes motivates our students to work hard and earn their reward with respect and dignity!

Thinking about Tomorrow is an organization committed to excellence and holding true to a clear vision and passion for delivering outstanding results with every effort we undertake. Over the years, we have proven the effectiveness of youth leadership development. Our community led programs, developed and managed by a community for a community, make a striking impact on our students. We believe in alternative education and youth leadership development, especially for those from underrepresented minority communities!

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We have many different ways of measuring the success of our “School is Cool” initiative. Working directly with LAUSD’s schools, counselors, and teachers allows us to maintain record of any given student’s attendance in any school. We track progress daily, weekly, monthly and annually as students’ attendance rates progressively increase. Tying this metric of measurement to the students that receive backpacks with school supplies provides further proof of our program’s success.

Already, we’ve been able to serve 20,000+ students and their families in approximately 20 schools throughout LAUSD. In both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, schools served by our initiative achieved significant gains of 96%+ (Proficient/Advanced) attendance as well as a decrease in chronic absence rates in targeted grade levels. The partnerships TaT has developed with LAUSD’s Title 1 schools and their staff allow TaT to fully analyze, track, and share student attendance data as well as teach clear and positive expectations for student attendance. With continuous support from our community, we can identify, assess, and support students in need of early intervention services and provide the resources necessary to address barriers to consistent school attendance.

Tracking the improvements in our students overall involvement with classroom activities allows us to provide the necessary encouragement for academic success irregardless of whether or not they received a back pack. Understanding the underlying issues that hinder many students from achieving, helps us better connect not only with that student, but also with their family and surrounding community. When we are able to get all parties working together in the same direction toward the same common goal, EVERYONE wins!

It is only through the collaboration of many, that the relationships we’ve built with the schools, students and their families will have the most impact. We want to make school a fun and safe place, not a place that our students dread. We strive to provide a place that feels like “home away from home.” TaT aims to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble. When students attend class regularly, they are actively involved in their education and are more likely to graduate. Additionally, the more students attend school regularly, the easier their transitions will become between elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school into college and eventually into a career!

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

To achieve desired results to any given task, communication and goals must be clear and direct. One must not assume that all involved parties know what is expected. This is not realistic. Communication is an important key factor when it comes to executing a project or event. When all parties are not on the same page, it takes longer for the goal to be achieved.

Working with the entire community can be a daunting task. Often times, unlimited amounts of pressure build, especially when thousands of students and their families are trusting TaT to come through! The advantage of our programming is that we make communication a priority. Communication between the schools and students as well as their families, along with communication between commercial and residential representatives is imperative to a smoothly functioning program. We have learned that it is the disconnection between the members of the community that halt further advancement and success of our programs. However, creating an opportunity for the entire community to celebrate each other builds an unbreakable bond amongst all members of the community!

Additionally, we have learned that people, not just children, need to be excited about learning. Modern technology has both excelled our civilization beyond belief while at the same time has prevented many from eventually reaching their full potential. For many, it has ruined their ability to interact socially and has increased behavioral anxiety. While we realize that we award students at the end of the year with free wifi tablets that can often perpetuate the lack of social behavior, we also realize the tablet’s amazing motivating factors for children and we strive to provide our students with the education needed to learn how to use it with moderation.

So, while we “incentivize” and get our students excited about going to school everyday, we also give them the tools needed for success in both school and life! We establish within each student a solid foundation of values that are taken home to families and are carried with them forever. We believe that learning NEVER ends and getting people excited about valuing their education isn’t just about improving attendance rates or graduation rates, it’s about improving their future!

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

The best part about our project is that it’s already rockin’ and rollin’! Our new partnership with the Association of Pupil Services and Attendance Counselors (APSAC) provides us with access to over 400 attendance counselors, all eager to work hard to assure their students have the best possible education they can. Together, we have created many opportunities for these students to not only improve their education, but their way of life.

We have timed our projects very carefully throughout the year, scheduling of course, around every school year. Our “School is Cool” initiative kicks off in the beginning of summer as we aim to collect 500 backpacks filled with enough school supplies to last the ENTIRE year. As we move closer to the start of the new school year, we invite students and their families to celebrate with us by receiving the backpacks with supplies.

We understand that one of the biggest attributes to a student’s success is the involvement of their family. Introducing our families to TaT’s “We’re ALL Here” Attendance Improvement Program shows our students and families that school CAN and SHOULD be a positive environment that welcomes all! Rewards for positive behavior have a much larger impact than punishing for negative. The same can be said with parents, we have found that parents enjoy visiting their child’s school much more when it’s to talk about all the great things their child is doing. Throughout the year, we challenge students to come to school everyday. Every week, we recognize classes with the BEST attendance in their grade. Every month, we celebrate by providing lunch with the principal.

During the holidays, we spend time with all the fostered and sheltered students who might not have someone special or important to spend time with. Sometimes, the hardest part for these students is going back to school and having to hear about all the cool new things other students received during the holidays. We alleviate that pressure by giving them the confidence they need to focus on what matters most - learning. The end of the school year is one of TaT’s favorite times. We award bicycles, iPads, gift cards, board games and tickets to movies and Dodgers games to our students who have earned it through their hard work and dedication to school.

And then, as summer begins again, we kick off our annual Back to School supply drive and do it all again!

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

As always, any organization’s main barrier when it comes to fully implementing a project is secruing the funds necessary to operate at full capacity. Every year, we’ve expanded our efforts to cover an increasing amount of students in schools, therefore, the need arises to find and secure additional funds. On top of that, as we progress through the year, student enrollment increases as students begin to attend school more often and qualify to join us in celebrating excellent and perfect attendance. Although that is a GREAT problem to have, it is still a problem that needs to addressed!

One of the easiest ways for us to overcome this challenge is to create various online campaigns generating a source of income outside of the traditional grassroots efforts. As an example, we send out newsletters, promote via social media, and engage our community partners in helping to spread the message. Not only are we (directors and volunteers) out there collecting donations, but also friends of friends of friends across the country are helping us to reach our goal!

Another obstacle that we face throughout the year is the ability to communicate with ALL of our student’s families. Not only do we struggle with language barriers but also the association of parents having to come to school for negative reasons: i.e. to reprimand their child. This negative association plays a huge role in our struggle to get parents into the schools. We have attempted to counteract this problem by recruiting volunteers and counselors who can better communicate with the families. Additionally, we try to go above and beyond when it comes to working with parents and their individual needs. We understand that they play a vital role in their child’s development, and when we can cater to our families every month as well as around the holidays, we begin to gain their trust not only as an organization, but also as an individual on a personal level.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research