Pacesetter Criterion 1
About Grinnell and the Grinnell Education Partnership: Grinnell is a small, rural Iowa town (pop. 9,100) with many resources for a community its size, yet vulnerable to a fragile economy, rising poverty and disparities in educational attainment between higher- and lower-income students. Local nonprofits wish to support education priorities but find it difficult to spare the human and financial resources to do so.
Alignment and Collaboration: The Grinnell Education Partnership is a “collective impact initiative” that brings together community nonprofits, area employers, the Grinnell-Newburg School District and community volunteers to support kids and families in Grinnell. Reflecting community needs, the partnership aims to:
- Give students a strong start so they can succeed in school in the early years; and
- Help students with a strong finish so they are prepared to do well after graduation.
Coordinated Roles for Maximum Impact: Supported by a team of AmeriCorps members embedded in community organizations, the partnership allows community organizations to work together in new ways, better aligning existing resources to support community education priorities. In addition to GLR Campaign focus areas of Summer Learning, School Readiness, Attendance, Family and Community Engagement, and Healthy Readers, the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership has convened new work in the areas of Volunteer Engagement (creating a new volunteer database) and “Skills Gap,” connecting high school students with local employment opportunities in new ways. Some AmeriCorps members are focused on building capacity — convening community taskforce groups in each of these key areas to develop short- and long- term action plans and pilot new initiatives. Other AmeriCorps members are engaged via direct service — adding “people power” to existing summer programs to address summer learning loss. In this unique partnership, Grinnell College serves as the grant recipient and grant administrator for the AmeriCorps grant (providing human resources); the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation serves as co-convener, spearheads private fund raising for additional community outreach and oversees the dispensation of those funds (providing financial resources); and community organizations such as the Drake Community Library provide community and content expertise to build high-quality, sustainable programming.
Evidence of Bigger Outcomes, Larger Impact and More Sustainable Scale: In the short time since the program’s inception, the initiative has captured the community’s imagination and garnered tremendous support. Since 2015-16, the partnership has engaged 76 AmeriCorps members, involved more than 20 organizations supporting the effort (through financial contributions and/or taskforce participation), recruited over 300 volunteers who contributed nearly 1,000 hours of volunteer service, piloted or enhanced more than 15 community-based programs and generated nearly $60,000 in additional grant funding and private donations to catalyze the efforts. Through the collaborative nature of the Grinnell Education Partnership, groups and individuals have been better able to coordinate efforts and see promising indications that this trend is poised to continue. One nonprofit leader summed up the bigger outcomes, larger impact and promise of sustainability by reporting, “We are able to implement programs that we otherwise would not have had the time to do. The programs that have been implemented also provide a framework for long-term sustainability. The key has been collaboration with other organizations. We have partnered with these groups in the past, but not at this level.”
Literacy Achievement Levels: Equally important to the new connections, energy and creativity made possible by the partnership, there is indication that the positive momentum is translating into positive performance in the classroom. In 2017, kindergarten through third grade district literacy achievement levels were noted to be on the rise. Literacy gains were noted as making a 5.1 percent improvement — outpacing the state level gains of 2.9 percent for the same period.
Pacesetter Criterion 2
Sustainability of the Agenda: Encouragingly, we see evidence of community-wide sustainability of the literacy advocacy agenda in that several of the projects piloted under the partnership have now been recognized as important, possible and achievable. As such, they are now being institutionalized through public and private organizations across the community or are poised to do so in the very near future. A few examples include:
- Attendance: Continued focus on chronic absenteeism to help build positive relationships with students and their caregivers to ensure kids get to school, on time, every day. Because of the positive momentum of this effort, the Grinnell Newburg School District hired a full-time family engagement and attendance coordinator in fall 2017 to ensure sustainability of this important priority.
- Volunteer Engagement: Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation is now creating a proprietary community-wide volunteer database with the assistance of a Grinnell College Computer Science course. The database will reside at the community foundation and serve community organizations across Grinnell and countywide for now and into the future.
- Summer Learning (School-Based Programming): After two years of piloting a comprehensive summer school and enrichment program developed as a partnership between the school district and several community nonprofits, the school superintendent is now working to adopt the program into the district’s programming and to incorporate into the district budget for sustainability into the future.
- Summer Learning (Community-Based Enrichment Programming): For the third year of the program, the Partnership has secured an additional AmeriCorps grant that will allow AmeriCorps members to be placed in existing summer programs throughout the community to add additional capacity for literacy enrichment. Participating host sites are Drake Community Library, Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell Regional Medical Center Day Camp and the Grinnell Community Daycare and Preschool. For further collaborations, scale and impact, next year Grinnell will be collaborating with the statewide Campus Compact organization to expand the outreach into more Iowa Campus Compact communities. This will give all participants even greater opportunities for learning and expanding best practices.
- School Readiness/Parent Engagement: An expanded “preschool fair” was piloted by a Grade-Level Reading Taskforce in the first year of the program (2015-16) offering activities and information to area families on a variety of preschool and day care options, community resources (hospital, public health, parks and recreation, etc.), as well as take-home literacy enrichment activities. For future sustainability, the event has now been adopted by a standing workgroup of all community preschool/early childhood centers building on the programming established that first year.
- Skills Gap: Based on community need, our program is a cradle-to-career model, offering teachers and employers new ways to connect in order to create opportunities for students to further develop the skills they need to enter and be successful in the workplace. An example of a sustainable initiative under this focus area is a local internship program hosted by Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company (the community’s largest employer). This new public-private partnership was formalized through the work of an AmeriCorps member under the Grinnell Education Partnership and was institutionalized by Grinnell Mutual, with a staff member to oversee the program. With the guidance of Poweshiek Iowa Development (the regional economic development agency), there are currently plans in the works to scale this initiative to other industries, including the health, accounting and manufacturing sectors. In the second year of the partnership, the Grinnell AmeriCorps member facilitated a four-day class for education professionals to learn about advance manufacturing employment opportunities and soft skills required for those positions. To ensure the program is sustainable, the class has been credentialed as a for-credit professional development opportunity. Each of these efforts was identified as an opportunity for impact to meet local workforce needs by a coalition of employers and educators.