Miami-Dade schools have faced tight budgets in recent years, while some students grapple with issues like homelessness, hunger and family instability. Education-focused nonprofits have stepped into the breach, providing classroom instruction, mentoring and other services.
“We do teaching and learning well, but a lot of nonprofits fill in the gaps in order to develop the whole child,” says Nikolai Vitti, outgoing head of Miami-Dade Public Schools’ education transformation office.
Here’s a look at the ways in which those efforts can transform mentors and teachers as well as students.
City Year combats high dropout rates by focusing on the ABCs: attendance, behavior and course performance. Researchers say that if just one of those factors is off track at the sixth grade level, a student is 25 percent less likely to graduate.
Launched in Miami-Dade in 2008 with 82 members in eight schools, City Year has grown to 185 members working in 15 schools. The national group, which was started in 1988 by two Harvard law graduates, recruits recent college graduates to spend a year of service.
These mentors, wearing signature red jackets, tutor students, call their homes when they miss school and organize mentoring sessions and community projects.
“We’re able to serve the whole school by serving the whole child,” says Saif Ishoof, executive director.
Last year, Luis Sierra, 23, returned to his alma mater, Miami Jackson Senior High in Allapattah, for City Year. After graduating from the University of Miami, the sociology major put graduate school on hold to serve on a 10-member team coordinating after-school activities at Jackson. By May, he says, some of his students were boasting better report cards.
“It gave me a bigger sense of purpose when it comes to mentorship,” says Sierra, who is now a graduate student in education administration at Florida International University.
Budget: $6.3 million including $2.5 million in private-sector donations, $2 million from AmeriCorps’ competitive grant process and $1.8 million in federal school improvement grant money.
Impact: Last school year, 74 percent of students tutored by City Year improved their reading fluency, 53 percent made significant gains in reading and 55 percent improved math skills.
Abused children, homeless teens and other young people in crisis find emergency help at Miami Bridge Youth & Family Service, a 27-year-old nonprofit that runs shelters in Miami and Homestead. No matter the type of emergency, says executive director Mary Andrews, education is a priority and part of the solution.
“When a child is enrolled, it’s a real positive reinforcement,” Andrews says.
In partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami Bridge offers academic advising along with services like therapy and life-skill training. Students, who stay at the shelters and average of 30 to 45 days, attend school at the Bridge campus, their neighborhood school, a charter school or via a GED program or virtual school.
The group’s director of education, Gayle Kofsky, weighs what program would be the best fit. For example, a teen who has failed a high school grade multiple times may do best in a GED program.
Budget: $3.19 million, including $2 million from state government grants and contracts, $365,040 from program services and $272,168 from local grants.