Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A new community initiative working to keep middle school students engaged in school and on track to graduation has received a major boost in the form of a $3 million federal investment.

Last week in Washington, D.C., the Corporation for National and Community Service announced that after a highly competitive, rigorous nationwide competition, United Way of Greenville County was awarded a three-year, $3 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant to support the success of middle school students and their families. The grant includes the potential for an additional $2 million in continuation funding over two years based on appropriations and performance.

Partners from United Way, Greenville County Schools and the Riley Institute at Furman University recently announced how the grant will be used to implement an Early Warning and Response System—an evidence-based dropout prevention strategy at Tanglewood, Lakeview Middle School, Berea Middle School and Greenville Early College.

The federal funds will be matched dollar for dollar by United Way of Greenville County, private foundations, and corporations; and matched again by funded subgrantees, for a potential community investment of $15 million over five years. Commitments from Hollingsworth Fund and the Community Foundation of Greenville, as well as corporate support from Wells Fargo, have gotten the matching process underway.

“Too often, simply where you live can put you at a disadvantage that’s hard to rise above,” said Greenville County School Board Member Glenda Morrison-Fair, a volunteer on United Way’s Middle Grades Success Challenge Team. “If we are to strengthen our whole community, we must focus on the communities that need us most and change the odds for our children in these neighborhoods.”

“Students generally make the decision to drop out of school somewhere between fifth and eighth grades. It is important that we identify the risk factors and engage students with a network of support services that will put them back on track. This partnership provides the vital resources our students need to ensure that they are college or career ready when they leave high school,” said Superintendent W. Burke Royster.

Greenville County Schools has already committed to invest in the technology to implement the “early warning” portion of the project, while United Way will subgrant the federal dollars and matching funds to qualified nonprofits offering the “response.” This wrap-around support for students and their families can include such things as health care, transportation, affordable housing, or other issues preventing students from succeeding in school.

In the next several months, United Way will hold an open competition to select innovative, effective nonprofits to receive grants valued at a minimum of $100,000 for periods of three to five years. These solutions must have at least preliminary evidence of impact, and nonprofits will work with officials at SIF and United Way to design strong evaluation plans. The Riley Institute at Furman University, a key partner in the grant award, will help track the performance and evaluate the impact of the subgranted programs.

“This project matters for many reasons, not just because of the way it stands to change the lives of the students, families and communities of the White Horse Road area, but also because the rigorous evaluation component that we will undertake will deepen our understanding of which strategies work best in middle school to help students transition successfully into high school,” said Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute.

Piloted effectively in Philadelphia, Phoenix, and other communities around the country, the Early Warning Response System utilizes real-time data to identify students beginning to disengage from school as indicated by attendance, behavior and course performance. By identifying students early, a coordinated team of educators and community experts can match students with the right response interventions and then monitor each student’s progress over time.

SIF uses limited federal investment as a catalyst to grow community-based nonprofits with evidence of strong results. Five years into the program, the Social Innovation Fund and its nonfederal partners have committed to invest more than $700 million in effective community solutions.

“This grant represents a major win for all of us as it validates the power of collaboration that we so strongly believe in at United Way,” said United Way President Ted Hendry. “We are extremely proud to be included among a very select list of organizations from across the country that have received Social Innovation Fund grants over the past five years, and are very excited about the possibilities this creates for the children of this community and the future of Greenville County.”

School Board Member and United Way Volunteer Glenda Morrison-Fair said we must focus on the communities that need support the most.
School Board Member and United Way Volunteer Glenda Morrison-Fair said we must focus on the communities that need support the most.
Superintendent W. Burke Royster commended the partnership to provide community services to families in three targeted schools.
Superintendent W. Burke Royster commended the partnership to provide community services to families in three targeted schools.

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