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The United States educational system reflects society's inequalities; in several states some of the best and some of the strongest and weakest public schools are within twenty miles from one another. Facts help convey the demand to improve the quality of education for poverty-stricken students and equalize their educational opportunities. Most of these children live in environments that don't emphasize the value of schooling and the development of career goals. The majority of these children live in areas plagued with substandard public schools that lack the ability to motivate and educate. Many of these students' families or teachers don't emphasize college and career goals. While most of these students are consumed by social factors that negatively affect their ability to be successful in the classroom, positive role models and mentors can help them create a path for success. Therefore, they need help beyond the classroom that will catch them from falling through the cracks, give them opportunities, and prepare them for future success.
Several noteworthy nonprofits focus their efforts toward providing educational, social and career opportunities for students living in impoverished areas. These foundations attempt to equalize educational opportunities for students, giving them the tools to ultimately compete in the job market. Such nonprofits act as a saving grace for many students whose public schools might not think of them as more than a number. The success rate of students involved proves the power of such organizations in helping them achieve access to higher education. As Abigail Adams eloquently said, "Learning is not attained to by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence." These nonprofits exist solely to provide impoverished students with the necessary tools to supplement their education beyond the classroom.
The mahogany conference table is the kind where important people sit and big decisions are made. On the table is a pitcher of water with lemon slices dancing around, some glasses, several folders filled to capacity, and four dice with words on them. Sarah sits down and rolls the four dice, reading the resulting words aloud. She had rolled "change," "passion," "inspire" and "communication." Sarah instructs her audience to live by those four words and find the significance in them. And suddenly, the room feels as if it is expanding and minds are growing with it.
Sarah Martinez-Helfman, Director of Eagles Youth Partnership, has an uncanny ability to inspire. As a visionary, she has an obligation to society and is more than prepared to rise to her call of duty. As the world sleeps, Sarah is wide-awake and dreaming. Her visions are more vivid than the deepest dreams people experience during a perfect night's rest. Her worst day is more productive than most people's best. Sarah's taste buds savor the excitement of new flavors and appreciate the uniqueness in every bite. Her analysis of Eagles Youth Partnership's efforts is captivating; it is equivalent to a blind man discovering color for the first time. This moment cannot be duplicated. Sarah's facial expression exudes pure ecstasy, excitement and passion. Sarah says:
"I will never become satisfied"
"Wings on Wheels"
As the Executive Director of Eagles Youth Partnership, Sarah Martinez-Helfman leads the nonprofit agency's initiatives to better the educational conditions for poverty-stricken youth in the greater Philadelphia area. This year marks Eagles Youth Partnership's 13 years of commitment to improving the quality of education for more than 50,000 children in the tri-state area. Through its affiliation with the Philadelphia Eagles football team, the partnership is able to capture the children's attention by utilizing the star power of professional athletes. Eagles Youth Partnership strategy is proactive; it take their educational programs to children in need. One of its most noteworthy services, "The Book Mobile," is an outstanding example of private sectors nonprofit efforts outside of the classroom to motivate and educate children in the Philadelphia area about the importance of reading.
While Martinez-Helfman modestly remarks that her visions are extensive and still developing, Eagles Youth Partnership's ability to enlighten thousands of children about the importance of a strong foundation of education is worthy of recognition: "I'm proud of what we've accomplished over the last several years, but I refuse to become complacent with our success. There is much more work to be done and many more lives to affect." During the spring and summer seasons, the Book Mobile reinforces the messages children receive in the classroom but might not necessarily grasp, traveling to hundreds of tri-state area schools, libraries, recreation centers, shelters, and summer camps. Eagles Youth Partnerships' mobile services are funded by corporate and individual sponsors and are given additional media exposure because of their affiliation with the Philadelphia Eagles. According to the organization's website, The Book Mobile helps children attain life goals. The "team," as Martinez-Helfman calls her group, travels to a variety of locations with several staffed members, a specialized storybook teller and hundreds of books that they give away at each site.
Eagles Youth Partnership uses an "offense" approach to educating students from low-income environments. At each site, the storyteller captivates the young minds of his audience by acting out the story with an immense amount of enthusiasm. This is the first stage of Eagles Youth Partnership's motivation tactics, as the storyteller manages to engage the children and prove to them the power of reading a compelling story. When children fall through the cracks in public school systems, nonprofits such as this are there to catch them. Eagles Youth Partnership has a three-step game plan that is committed to their young audience's discovering the importance of reading, motivation and a strong education in order to achieve their life goals.
The Book Mobile acts as a modern day "Magic School Bus." Author Joanna Cole depicted an environment of students who looked to their teacher, Ms. Frizzle for guidance and insight; likewise, Eagles Youth Partnership feeds off of Martinez-Helfman's vision and creativity. Martinez-Helfman adequately prepares the group and arrives at each site, presenting her best-constructed team. Often, a football player will travel to different sites with Eagles Youth Partnership. As an integral member of the traveling force, the athlete immediately addresses the students after the storyteller reads a story.
Six years ago, a wide-eyed fullback for the Eagles, Cecil Martin, traveled with The Book Mobile to share his inspirational story with the children at The Boys and Girls Club of Trenton and Mercer County. Martin read the children the story The Little Engine that Could, explaining that this book embodies the motivation he maintained throughout his youth. As Martin addresses the children, he does not have a condescending demeanor, but rather a tone of empathy and understanding: "All of you have a different story, different struggles, and different home lives. But we've all had someone tell us that we can't do something or go somewhere. I'm living proof that the disbelievers are wrong. My lowest point is as low as anyone can get, but I kept fighting. I'm here today to teach you the power in saying yes when others say no, to stand up after you fall, and to most importantly believe like I did that you can and will accomplish great things." He begins his speech by explaining that if the children are looking for pity, they must look elsewhere. He explains that everyone faces obstacles, and focusing on one's misfortunes does not allow for advancement. He recounts his childhood experience of living in a housing project on the south side of Chicago by explaining that his work ethic and determination helped him climb out of a hole that at one point appeared insurmountable. He tells the children that during his high school years he lived in a homeless shelter with the few family members he had left.
Martin goes on to explain that several remarkable role models have taught him the importance of higher education, so now he is perpetuating this cycle by acting as an example. He connects with the children by explaining that he understands that it seems hard to think about college when you haven't eaten for a week and are worried about your family's safety. This comment seems to resonate with his young audience members, who nod with approval. The children recognize that Martin understands their day-to-day troubles. Martin goes on to describe that while athletics was a tool that allowed him to get a scholarship and attend a university, he wouldn't have been able to get there if he hadn't worked hard to get good grades during his adolescence. He also explains the brainpower necessary to his position in the NFL; the children seem shocked that athletes do not rely solely on physical strength but use their education as well.
Only outsider observers would label Martin's story as one of rags to riches; he attributes his success to his steadfast faith that tomorrow will be better and his motivation to ensure that it is. And tomorrow is better for Cecil Martin, because he was a motivated student who viewed his education as a tool for upward social and financial mobility. Eagles Youth Partnership recognizes the strength in such a message and believes role models have the power to motivate students to value their education. Furthermore, they support children who have drive but lack of resources. After Martin finishes his story he hands the children free books, and they eagerly begin to read. This concludes all three stages of The Book Mobile's game plan, but the beauty in this arrangement is that their work has just begun.
Philadelphia Eagles Owner and Chairman of the affiliated nonprofit organization Jeffrey Lurie comments, "When we first developed EYP, I looked for a group of people who understood the power in our mission and would help the foundation grow and meet with success. Sarah was the perfect draft choice; she is the glue that keeps us together. And she is responsible for the tremendous strides we have made in the greater Philadelphia region." According to the Eagles Youth Partnership, the Book Mobile has made a tremendous impact on the Philadelphia region; it has motivated hundreds of students over the last 13 years. Since 2000 it has distributed 312,145 books, and traveled roughly 5,820 miles during their 2007 season alone. However, numbers do not do Eagles Youth Partnership justice; it is nonprofit organizations like theirs that encourage many impoverished students to strive for better. While Sarah's three-step approach effectively begins the motivational process, she is not the only one doing such initiatives. Other nonprofit organizations' efforts help perpetuate the same message, teaching the importance of dreaming to the poverty-stricken children and assuring them that their education will help them meet their life goals.
The Boys and Girls Club of America is one of the oldest and most substantial nonprofit organizations, serving millions of children across the country and internationally. Established 102 years ago, the nonprofit organization currently enriches the lives of more than 4 million children. This year, the Boys and Girls Club of America's effective use of financial donations allowed the organization to gain well-deserved national recognition. According to its main Web site, this year the nonprofit group is "ranked number one among youth organizations for the 12th consecutive year, and number 16 among all nonprofit organizations in the latest 'Philanthropy 400' report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy."
Actor Denzel Washington went to a local club during his childhood years. Washington credits his positive experience there with much of his success; he currently serves on the club's national board. Washington comments on the impact The Boys and Girls Club has on children like him: "Every day at 3 p.m. many of our young people lack meaningful and safe things to do after school. Research shows youth-related crime nationwide doubles between 3 and 8 p.m. every weekday. Boys & Girls Clubs have a profound impact on the lives of youth, yesterday, today and far into the future." The Boys and Girls Club of America is one of the dominating nonprofits in the world. Additionally, proving themselves a life-changing "positive place for kids," The Boys and Girls Club of America was placed on Charity Navigator's "10 of the Best Charities Everyone's Heard Of" list. Again according to its national Web site "On a scale of 0 to 70, derived by assessing organizational efficiency and capacity, BGCA received an overall score of 68.85 from Charity Navigator." The Boys and Girls Club of America is known for its remarkable use of funding. The discussion of nonprofits' efforts wouldn't be complete without an in-depth analysis of the Boys and Girls Club of America and its tremendous contributions.
Developing a Dream
Today, the Boys and Girls Club has over four thousand club locations throughout the country and in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and on military bases. It has more than 49,000 trained professional staff. With such a tremendous force behind them, it is no surprise that the nonprofit organization has managed to positively impact the lives of millions of children. The ability to educate impoverished youth about the connection between one's academic success and career success is one of the strongest contributions of nonprofit organizations. According to David Anderson, executive director of BGC of Trenton and Mercer County, one of the greatest issues the club faces is that many children do not understand the importance of school or its connection to career preparation. Anderson believes that "the high school dropout rate among students' parents (40%) exemplifies the fact that school is not emphasized at home."
Unlike many students who come from middle and upper class socioeconomic backgrounds, discussions of higher education and career goals are not common in these children's households. Therefore, organizations like the BGCA, play a fundamental role in needy children's exploration of college and career options that they never knew existed, and help them develop a dream. Each Boys and Girls Club site supports its students' attempts to gain equal educational and career opportunities; they provide tutoring for students of all ages, homework help, standardized testing preparation (including the SAT's and ACT's), study groups and in depth computer instructions. To supplement what's taught in the classroom, each individual club decides what national or local programs they will offer to its members.
National Level Lends a Hand
The Boys and Girls Club of America develops researched-based programs that are tested in a few locations, and then each site director uses his discretion to decide which programs to implement. Each site is given extensive support and preparation from the national organization and this ensures that they run smoothly. The Boys and Girls Club of America may be one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the country but they are also one of the most effective. Their mass distribution has not inhibited the quality of each individual site, and they maintain strong communication ties between clubs. Anderson remarks, "Despite the fact that we have an enormous amount of clubs that help children in all different areas, each one manages to run smoothly. Our board members are committed as are our directors. Our members and their families are happy because our staff is happy. It all goes hand in hand. The reason this organization works is because it runs well from the top to the bottom." The national organization gives a written curriculum, supporting websites, textbooks, and student manuals to each of their sites. Additionally, they provide instructor-training programs, which allow the national organization to insure a high quality of staff members.
The national organization also provides funding to help aid local clubs' attempts to get programs started. On the national level, the Boys and Girls Club of America runs several programs that assist in educational and career development and help instill in their children the value of an education. According to the national organization's website, the club created these programs in collaboration with some of their sponsors to "help youth create aspirations for the future, providing opportunities for career exploration and educational enhancement."
Jamal is One of Many
Sixteen-year-old Jamal [name changed for privacy purposes] is a sophomore at Trenton High School in New Jersey who spends his afternoon's at The Boys and Girls Club of Trenton and Mercer County. He comes from a single-parent family; his mother works long hours at minimum wage because being a high school dropout limits her career options. Jamal is living proof of Anderson's remarks that a parent's limited education may influence her child's lack of awareness of education's importance. Instead of Jamal's mother drawing on her experience to motivate her three children to strive for better, she does not know how to help them gain the opportunities she lacked. Luckily, she remembers her unstructured afternoons resulting in her teenage pregnancy and makes sure that her three children go to the Boys and Girls Club, a safe environment, after school.
Like Jamal's mother, many working parents struggling to provide for their families on minimum wage, send their children to programs like the Boys and Girls Club. These parents feel the club acts as a safe haven. Regardless of her motivation for sending Jamal and his siblings to the BGC, her children still receive the program's benefits and start striving to better themselves. While Jamal hasn't yet established specific career goals, the program is helping him realize where his strengths and interests lie. He doesn't know what career path he wants to pursue, but he knows his opportunities are expanding.
The programs developed by the Boys and Girls Club of America embody the positive impact nonprofit organizations such as theirs have for impoverished students like Jamal, helping them design and execute a game plan for achieving their career goals. Another program called "CareerLaunch," is funded by the Gap Foundation to help adolescents determine what fields they want to pursue and identify necessary college requirements to obtain their newfound career goals.
For many students in similar situations to Jamal's, programs like "Junior Staff: Cultivating Tomorrow's Club Professionals Today" can help them gain greater job opportunities than the jobs their parents are forced to accept. "Junior Staff" is funded by AT&T and serves the same age demographic as "CareerLaunch." This program is unique as it helps to prepare students for careers in human services and to teach the importance of community service. This is notable because it helps prepare impoverished children for potential employment at the Boys and Girls Club. "Junior Staff" sends out a positive message to teenagers, implying that the club is willing to bet on their ability to become role models and work for their organization.
Since students like Jamal have only been exposed to a household living from paycheck to paycheck, they are not adequately prepared to manage their money. "Money Matters: Make it Count" collaborates with the Charles Schwab Foundation establishing a program that teaches adolescents how to manage their money. It is not enough to assume that recognizing the necessity of a strong education to a successful career will ensure future success. Therefore, "Money Matters" teaches teenagers like Jamal money management skills and how to gain financial independence. This is arguably the most effective program for the long term; the other programs' efforts could be cancelled out if young people do not learn how to manage and sustain their resources.
Educating Beyond the Classroom
Macy's South and MetLife Foundation collaborated with the Boys and Girls Club of America to develop programs designed to improve economically deprived students' academic performances and high school graduation rates. "Strategic Approach for Academic Success" works with young club members, six through twelve year-olds, in addition to the adolescent group. It allows trained staff members to help identify strategies for working with both age demographics. The program helps clubs address the reasons for the high percentage of high school dropouts and apply these findings to create strategies that catch students before they reach that point. The second program, "Goals for Graduation," works on improving graduation rates by teaching six-to fifteen-year-olds how to set academic goals for themselves. Students learn at a young age how to set monthly and yearly academic goals that help motivate them for future academic success.
The Boys and Girls Club of America also recognizes the importance of supplementing students' core curriculum work. Each site has a program entitled "Power Hour: Making Minutes Count," which is part of the club's strategy to help disadvantaged students gain the support they need outside of the classroom. "Power Hour" is a structured homework time period where tutors are available for struggling students. Many times students find it less intimidating to ask a tutor a question individually, rather than approaching a teacher in front of the entire class. Students find the "Power Hour" atmosphere positive and motivating, because they are surrounded by peers who are working equally as diligently. Thirteen year-old Kerri [name changed for privacy purposes] remarks, "I like doing my homework at the club. When I need help I can ask one of the tutors and they will work me through my problems. Usually my friends and I all do our homework at the same time so we can play together afterwards." The tutors maintain a productive academic environment, and the students are obligated to finish their homework and review their assignments prior to getting free time as a reward for their hard work.
Another one of the programs gives students access to technology they wouldn't be able to afford at home and helps them learn how to use computers. According to the national club website, "Skill Tech is a hands-on program that appeals to members of all ages and technical abilities." "Skill Tech," funded by Microsoft Corporation, gives poor students the opportunity to make PowerPoint presentations based on their academic work. Impoverished students are also put at an academic disadvantage because they lack exposure to technology that their wealthier counterparts get at home and at school. "Skill Tech" teaches computer literacy integrated into their academic curriculum, acclimating children to the technology skills they will need to thrive in the workforce. This ultimately lessens educational inequalities.
Academics are Given Merit
One of the most common questions students ask teachers is why are we learning this? Many times students find it difficult to stay motivated when they feel the material is irrelevant. Additionally, it is equally as exhausting to stay stimulated on a day-to-day basis when a student has not been exposed to the merit of pursuing higher education and a career. Or in many cases, as examined, impoverished children are not educated about the importance of being educated. It is through nonprofit organizations like Eagles Youth Partnership and The Boys and Girls Club that classroom study is given merit. At a young age, adults force many of these students to attend such programs merely to shield them from the social problems of these impoverished areas. But as they mature, the adolescent's are able to make their own decisions; therefore, the nonprofits design their programming to keep their students' attention. These nonprofit organizations' efforts reiterate the direct correlation between a strong education and the pursuit of a career. Though their success has been remarkable, their work is only one piece of the puzzle in gaining equal educational and career opportunities for all students.
Moving on Up
Another approach to compensating for the inadequacy of many public schools in urban settings is nonprofits efforts to take high achieving students in poor communities and place them in more rigorous academic settings. The theory behind such a strategy is that there are many gifted students who are simply born into poverty; these students shouldn't all be labeled as "unmotivated." The educational system should not punish them for situations beyond their control, such as the socioeconomic status they were born into. The idea is that these talented students would benefit from the discipline of a more academic environment, surrounded by equally as motivated students and taught by teachers who allow their minds to grow. Several nonprofit organizations devote their work to equalizing educational opportunities by preparing and placing students into independent secondary schools. The Steppingstone Foundation exists solely for this purpose, taking a particular slice of high achieving children and providing them with the proper academic, social, financial support enable them to succeed.
"The Great Equalizer"
The Steppingstone Foundation, established in 1990, is a prime example of a nonprofit organization that is committed to placing impoverished children in stronger academic settings. They try to uphold Horace Mann's guiding principle that "education is the greatest equalizer." The idea is that these settings will allow qualified and gifted children to reach their greatest potential and build stronger ambitions.
Over the last 15 years, the foundation has discovered that the students who are admitted into private secondary schools are more likely to attend college. The nonprofit is run on very little government funding and receives the majority of their funds through the dedication of private foundations. Originating in Boston and expanding to Philadelphia and Hartford, Connecticut, the Steppingstone Foundation ensures that these gifted students are given the necessary tools to equalize their educational opportunities. Most talented impoverished children coast through weak public school environments, and placing them in more rigorous academic settings gives them the infrastructure to meet with future success. Therefore, the Steppingstone Foundation helps these children adequately prepare for secondary schools, thrive in these environments, and helps them gain access to higher education opportunities such as college. Founder Michael Danziger comments on the foundation's initiatives: "Steppingstone is successful because its model is demanding and it links those demand to life transforming opportunities. Society benefits because a broader cross-section is prepared to contribute in significant ways." Steppingstone helps many students who aren't being challenged by their public school systems to gain access to more rigorous academic settings.
Dana Smith suggested that Mona's [name changed for privacy purposes] eldest son was talented; his poor grades at a young age were reflective of the public school's failure to engage him rather than his lack of intelligence. The idea had never occurred to Mona, as she was more focused on the fact that she was working two minimum wage paying jobs and thanks to Smith's family's messiness, she now had a third. Mona, the cleaning lady for Smith's very wealthy but equally as generous family, didn't realize that this third job was a blessing in disguise. Smith suggested that Jeffrey apply to the Steppingstone Foundation, designed for young gifted students like him who aren't being challenged in the public school system. Jeffrey [name changed for privacy purposes] took standardized tests and it was determined that he qualified as one of the small percentage of high achievers. He then dedicated fourteen months to taking math and English courses guided by the nonprofits' tutors.
The Steppingstone Academy in Boston helps students like Jeffrey prepare for stronger curriculums and then helps place them into secondary schools. They provide support services throughout the entire academic process from fifth through twelfth grade. In order to train students like Jeffrey both academically and socially, for placement into prestigious secondary schools they developed a fourteen-month academic program. It is divided into several parts in which students are instructed in the core curriculum courses and caught up to speed with their new environments. After Jeffrey successfully completed the preparation process, he was able to attend Beaver Country Day School, an independent school in Chestnut Hill, where he earned high marks.
The carefully orchestrated Steppingstone curriculum is modeled after the challenging academia the private schools pride themselves on. In Jeffrey's case and in most instances, this is the first time the talented students take part in such an intimate learning experience. The Steppingstone Foundation evokes a sense of determination within the already gifted scholars and supplements their efforts by providing the resources their students need to compete.
The Steppingstone Foundation reforms the way Mona and other parents and guardians view education, thus allowing them to collectively enhance educational opportunities given to their children. By having the foundation's positive message echoed at home by guardians, the nonprofit organization has a greater chance of effectively impacting families rather than strictly influencing specific individuals. Essentially, they hope that this dedication to individual students' education will have a "ripple effect." The Steppingstone Foundation attempts to have students like Jeffrey model for the rest of his family the rewards of being driven. As students begin to excel, it is hoped that they will motivate their siblings to value their educations and work equally as hard. The Steppingstone Foundation hopes that Jeffrey's siblings will follow in his footsteps and believes that one child can begin the cycle of success in a family.
The Steppingstone Foundation got Mona involved in her son's transformative educational process; in the beginning she signed a contract committing her to valuing their approach. The ability to get families involved in the process enables the Steppingstone Foundation's effectiveness. When Jeffrey faced times of struggle throughout his academic preparation process, Mona was prepared to motivate her son since the Steppingstone Foundation had promised rewards for his efforts and her sacrifices. Though his mother, Mona, sacrificed for his educational opportunities, in a few years he will be making enough money to provide for their entire family. The idea that success breeds success is one of the guiding principles behind the Steppingstone Foundation, as scholars like Jeffrey will one day have their academic triumphs result in career success. Jeffrey's hard work will potentially position him to provide for his family; Mona, who once worked three jobs, will be able to retire because of her son's success.
The nonprofit organization's efforts do not end after placing scholars like Jeffrey at some of the most prestigious secondary schools in the country. They continue to manage their students' success by maintaining a close relationship with the private schools so they can supplement what their students are learning in the classroom through extra tutorial sessions. Furthermore, they stay engaged throughout the developmental years by playing an active role and supporting their scholars in all of their endeavors. The Steppingstone Foundation provides their academy with the resources to help supplement their students' educational journeys. The trained professionals were prepared to assist Jeffrey with his culture shock when he found himself thrown into a social setting where his peers were wealthy Caucasian students. The nonprofit organization teaches their students important life lessons, and in turn, the scholars are more comfortable in their new academic settings. The Steppingstone Foundation has a steadfast loyalty to their scholars' success and is there to help them both develop and meet their life goals.
The Steppingstone Foundation was there to guide Jeffrey throughout his developmental years and then collaborated with his school to assist him in the college process. Early in his involvement, the foundation assisted Jeffrey in unleashing his passion for the sciences and helped him feed this appetite throughout his academic years. They placed him in an environment that emphasized science and math exploration. Later, they helped him find a college known for its science program, so he could pursue his desired career of aerospace engineering. They also guided him throughout the college process and helped him find a particular scholarship that met his family's financial needs.
The nonprofit is actively involved with scholars like Jeffrey, finding a college that tailors to their interests and making the entire process possible and less daunting. The Steppingstone Foundation is able to provide individual attention for their scholars throughout the college process: counselors help the students write and edit essays, seek out scholarships for which they are eligible, complete financial aid applications, to name a few of their services. Most of the scholars who are involved in the Steppingstone Foundation's programs go on to attend noteworthy colleges. It is the foundation's ability to guide their scholars throughout their formative years that results in them meeting with future success.
The college placement section of the foundation's website contains comments by Robert P. Jackson, the director of multicultural recruitment and associate director of undergraduate admissions at Yale University. Jackson remarks, "'Our nation needs more programs like Steppingstone to meet the challenges of an increasingly diverse world where economic inequality and a lack of resources continue to threaten educational opportunity.'" Jackson's remarks capture the tremendous impact of such nonprofit organizations and their attempt to help bridge the gap in educational opportunities. The Steppingstone Foundation helps youths evolve from gifted students who weren't being challenged into hardworking, exceptional scholars. Currently, Jeffrey is in college and has maintained high marks at one of the best engineering schools in the country.
Mona and Jeffrey's story has a twofold message that embodies the power of the Steppingstone Foundation's approach. The foundation helped Mona recognize the value of her son's education and provided her with financial resources to help him gain educational opportunities. But ultimately, the ball was in Jeffrey's court, and he has remained driven throughout his educational journey. Eventually, Jeffrey will be able to provide for his entire family and reward his hardworking mother for all her sacrifices. The Steppingstone Foundation has an incredible capacity to identify voids in public educational systems and recognizes that students like Jeffrey, who has a natural aptitude for academics, need to be uprooted in order to attain their dreams. In addition to the fact that secondary schools make it easier to challenge already gifted children, a rigorous academic setting and an environment of "thinkers" are proven to make children want to succeed academically, socially and in extracurricular activities. Though their ability to motivate and provide resources for impoverished students has been exceptional, their efforts are matched by other nonprofit organizations attempting to tackle educational inequalities in a different format.
Directly contrasting the high achieving demographic served by the Steppingstone Foundation's efforts, The BELL Foundation, Building Education Leaders for Life, dedicates work to serving the lowest performing students. The nonprofit exists to catch struggling students at a young age, when they are most likely to fall through the cracks in public school systems. BELL has a program that serves students from kindergarten through sixth grade, because they are aware that 85 percent of the children who are on track by the time they hit eighth grade go on to attend college. BELL exists to serve the students who are most likely to be held back or drop out of school as a result of lack of academic proficiency and positive role models.
BELL's belief is that the low performing students are the ones who would benefit from the attention of the specialized tutors that they have the resources to provide. It helps instill in children self-confidence and a vision of future success; the foundation's positive role models help motivate the students to go on to graduate from high school and college and have a career. BELL helps their students becomes scholars and lead lives that they are proud of. The BELL Foundation, founded in 1992, has a remarkable story behind its establishment. The co-founder and CEO, Earl Martin Phalen, had an upbringing that correlates with the nonprofits' efforts to serve the underdogs of each classroom. Committed board member Debra Knez remarked, "the greatest indication of whether a nonprofit will be successful is told through the leader of the foundation. The reason BELL has long-lasting power and will continue to grow is indicative of Earl's intelligence and ability to mass market his vision. Earl's childhood helped shape his goals and commitment to this organization. He keeps his upbringing close to his heart and allows it to be the guiding source of his dedication to serving the underdogs of America."
An Underdog's Story
Since he was abandoned at birth, Earl Martin Phalen's life has been an uphill battle. His story is not one of sympathy, but rather of triumph and drive. He spent time in foster care before being adopted in 1968 by the Phalens, a Caucasian family that lived in the suburbs of Massachusetts. The Phalens had seven children but saw past the racial divides of the sixties and took the African American Earl into their home as though he was one of their own. The couple helped their adopted son gain a very clear sense of self and promoted an awareness of social justice. Earl stood out in all aspects at his local public schools throughout his youth: academically, athletically and racially. However, his impressive marks and hard work allowed him to go on to attend Yale University, graduating in 1989.
After spending a year volunteering at a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., Phalen went on to attend Harvard Law School, an opportunity that opened up nontraditional doors for him. He went to Jamaica to study human rights cases and came back to Harvard, only to have an eye-opening experience while working at an orphanage in Boston. It sealed his desires to pursue equalizing educational opportunities for students in impoverished areas. Earl then sought out a well-known source in education, Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree, who initially shot down Earl's enthusiastic ambitions. In 2003 Olgetree commented to the Boston Herald, "'Here was this bright kid, who had graduated from Yale and was attending Harvard Law. But he approached me with this idealistic view of the world and told me that he wanted to save the next generation of inner-city kids. I told him to come back when he was serious.'"
A Vision Becomes a Reality
But something about Phalen's vision kept Olgetree listening. After mentoring at a community center in an impoverished area of Boston, Phalen discovered the poor quality of education in the public school systems, resulting in students testing at grade levels beneath their age groups (Hoover). Knez shared an anecdote that Phalen once told her regarding his experiences at Harvard. She explained that while Earl was in law school he would go to a neighborhood playground to shoot hoops with a group of local youngsters. As this became a regular activity, Earl began to talk to the children about their lives. He was shocked to learn that the general consensus was that the children didn't like school. Earl had the students begin to bring their homework with them to basketball, and their afternoon sessions became both recreational and tutorial. As the numbers multiplied, Earl realized he couldn't give eighteen struggling teenagers the support they needed. He convinced several of his fellow Harvard classmates to join him at the local playground.
Phalen's afternoon basketball sessions, along with his tutoring and other community service work, sparked him and several fellow students at Harvard Law to begin BELL. In 1992, Earl and company began tutoring at a local school where most students were considered academically incompetent in the core curriculum courses.
Over the course of the last sixteen years, the BELL Foundation has fed off of Earl Martin Phalen's mission to serve low performing youngsters and has begun the process of globally equalizing educational opportunities. BELL is uniquely able to measure their students' academic ability before and after their involvement with the program. According to their Web site, "'in each of the last five years, every child entering BELL at the failing level in reading and math advanced to a higher academic level. More than 80% of BELL scholars achieved proficient or advanced levels in core skills, compared to 30% of their peers.'"
BELL's afterschool and summer programs allow struggling students the opportunity to be tutored in math and English, get instructions in a small group setting, have hands-on experiences, and be mentored by positive role models. Additionally, BELL works with public schools to improve the quality of their curriculums. BELL currently enlightens the lives of more than 8,000 students in 40 public school locations throughout Boston, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. They train over 1,000 teachers and tutors across the country.
A BELL that Will Always Ring
As Knez wisely pointed out, it is the guidance of impressive visionary Earl Martin Phalen that makes this nonprofit organization stand out among others. Phalen has been cited as one of the gurus of the education-related nonprofit; he has collaborated with many senators including both democratic presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. Phalen has also been slated to serve on the educational cabinet if Harvard Law School classmate Obama is elected as the next President.
BELL has lasting power for a variety of reasons, primarily shaped around Earl's tremendous abilities. An organization that exists fundamentally to supplement public school curriculums directly is rare. Phalen recognizes the impact his adopted parents had on improving his educational opportunities, and therefore developed BELL to value parent and guardian involvement throughout their scholars' educational journeys. The organization has received many awards including being named by Fast Company and Monitor Group in 2005 one of the "top 25 organizations changing the world."
One Child At a Time
These nonprofit organizations clearly work to help equalize educational opportunities for students. While each organization may go about it differently, ultimately there is a common desire to give disadvantaged students the proper building blocks to gear their lives in the right direction. These nonprofits efforts to help impoverished students get a quality education, attend college, and develop and pursue career goals, allow them to construct a platform for a solid life. All educationally and recreationally based nonprofit organizations' initiatives are shaped around helping students gain self-confidence, have positive role models and have access to the necessary resources to help their evolving dreams become reality.
Though the nonprofit organizations discussed differ in some aspects, they all attempt to instill in their scholars the value of education and of developing aspirations for their future. Regardless of the source of their funding, the differences in their missions, and their approaches, all of these nonprofit organizations address the inequalities that exist in the United States' public educational system. These nonprofits hopefully will have their own ripple effects and will motivate other organizations to work harder.
The question remains, what happens to the children who aren't involved in these nonprofits' efforts? The reality is that these organizations aren't serving all disadvantaged students, and many who are struggling do in fact succumb to the social issues that afflict impoverished areas that we can't control, such as youth violence, rape, and gang involvement, just to name a few. But what is within our control is to help individuals like Sarah Martinez-Helfman and Earl Martin Phalen in their efforts to save as many children as we can, one child at a time. Through their efforts students' lives are being changes and new role models are being formed.