United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters Partnership Improves Educational Success Rate for High-Risk Elementary and Middle School Youth


United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters Partnership Improves Educational Success Rate for High-Risk Elementary and Middle School Youth

Washington, D.C., March 22, 2012 – United Way Worldwide and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America have created a partnership to expand evidence-based, one-to-one mentoring programs for elementary and middle school youth in America’s highest-risk schools and neighborhoods.

The new partnership, which builds on years of work together at the national and local level, focuses on three areas: targeting elementary and middle schools that feed into America’s lowest-performing high schools, using data to drive results and accountability, and mobilizing communities to give time, talent or money to support students’ educational success.

The partnership was announced at this week’s Grad Nation Summit in Washington, D.C. “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentoring model is proven to have positive effects on a child’s life,” said United Way Vice President for Education Nina Sazer O’Donnell.  “And, United Ways recruit people with passion, expertise and resources to create long-term change. Together, we’re aligning our resources, working in partnership with school superintendents and the American Association of School Administrators.”

The partnership supports the United Way goal to reduce the number of dropouts in the United States by half and recruit one million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors.  The partnership also advances Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work to improve academic, socio-emotional and behavioral outcomes for youth facing adversity.

Max Miller, Big Brothers Big Sisters co-CEO, cited communities in which this new partnership is active and where innovative methods of working together are showing results, including Winston-Salem, NC; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Austin, TX; and Louisville, KY.  (See attached background document for details.)  “In these communities, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way and the schools are working so closely together that if a mentee skips school, acts out or fails a test, that child’s Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor is part of the team – with the teacher and family – that jumps into action to get the child back on track,” he said.  “Our mentors are also there to celebrate their mentees’ successes.”

“That’s the kind of synergy we want to see all over the country,” O‘Donnell said. Over the next few months, both organizations will be spreading the word to their national networks – some 1,200 state and local United Ways and 355 local Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates – to engage them in more collaborative, more strategic approaches to engaging the entire community to support struggling students.

The collaborative approach goes beyond United Way funding for Big Brothers Big Sisters to recruit, train and deploy mentors.  Instead, the two organizations are teaming up and working with school leaders, parents, volunteers and community partners to keep high-risk students on track to graduate.  The one-to-one mentoring partnership, customized by each United Way-Big Brothers Big Sisters alliance in partnership with local school superintendents, galvanizes parents as well as public, private and nonprofit partners to support struggling students.

For example:
• A new model in Austin, Texas, enables students to meet with mentors in both community and academic settings resulting in increased parental involvement and more long-term mentoring pairings with positive outcomes.

• Parents of community-based mentees in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, give Big Brothers Big Sisters access to their children’s school records, creating unique support systems and individually customized mentoring programs that lead to academic improvement and family engagement. Among youth enrolled during the 2010-2011 funding cycle, 87 percent have shown improvement in knowledge/academics; 95 percent have demonstrated improved social interaction/confidence; and 88 percent have demonstrated improvement in their attitudes/behavior.

• Enriching community-based mentoring with college visits, motivational speakers and career workshops, Louisville, Kentucky’s “Turning up the Heat” program is yielding positive educational, behavioral and socio-emotional outcomes for high-risk middle school students.

• Youth paired for one year or longer in the “Graduating Our Future” middle-school program in Winston-Salem, North Carolina showed improved educational, behavioral, and socio-emotional outcomes.
About Big Brothers Big Sisters
Big Brothers Big Sisters, the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, holds itself accountable for children in its program to achieve measurable outcomes, such as educational success; avoidance risky of behaviors; and higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships.  Partnering with parents/guardians, schools, corporations and others in the community, Big Brothers Big Sisters carefully pairs children (“Littles”) with screened volunteer mentors (“Bigs”) and monitors and supports these one-to-one mentoring matches throughout their course.  The first-ever Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Summary, released in 2012, substantiates that its mentoring programs have proven, positive academic, socio-emotional and behavioral outcomes for youth, areas linked to high school graduation, avoidance of juvenile delinquency and college or job readiness. Learn how you can positively impact a child’s life, donate or volunteer at BigBrothersBigSisters.org.

United Way USA
United Way USA is comprised of more than 1,200 community-based United Ways in the U.S., and it is part of a worldwide network of nearly 1,800 United Ways in 41 countries and territories. It advances the common good, creating opportunities for a better life for all, by focusing on education, income and health – the building blocks for a good quality of life. United Way recruits the people and organizations from all across the community who bring the passion, expertise and resources needed to get things done. LIVE UNITED is a call to action for everyone to become part of the change. For more information, please visit: UnitedWay.org

Backgrounder Detailing United Way-Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Work

Here are four examples of the innovative work going on in which United Ways and Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies are working together more strategically and collaboratively than ever before.

1. Austin, Texas
In Austin, TX, Big Brothers Big Sisters and United Way are working together in new, strategic ways to help struggling middle schoolers achieve school success.

Middle School Matters brings together social, family, community, and out-of-classroom supports to boost graduation rates, improve academic performance and increase parent involvement.
United Way Capital Area is investing $1 million and 16 partners – including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas — are providing coordinated services like mentoring, tutoring, parent education, and after-school programs.  The integrated, highly coordinated approach is being piloted in three high-risk middle schools, with support from Applied Materials, Inc. and IBM.

The joint project goals are an increase in the percentage of youth with positive connections to at least one adult, increased attendance, promotion to the next grade level, improved behavior, and more youth reporting increased college aspirations.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas works closely with three high-risk middle schools, pairing students with one-to-one mentors.  Unlike other school-based mentoring programs, the Middle School Mentoring Program allows mentors to meet their mentees in both community and academic settings.

“This means parents are an integral part of the program’s success,” said Brent Fields, CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.  “When we engage parents as partners in their children’s success, we see longer mentoring matches, which improve outcomes for those children.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters and United Way worked together to define community indicators for mentoring, including a 50% increase in the length of the mentoring match.  They also worked with the largest school district to provide community providers with access to aggregate student data.

2. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Before Ramelo met his Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor in 2010, his mother, Maryse Muller, described her son as “just not caring” and “lost,” having no motivation to succeed.  Muller says she now sees 15-year-old Ramelo “becoming the young man I always hoped he would become.”  Ramelo recently achieved school Honor Roll for the first time, saying his Big Brother helped him “learn how important it is to push myself.”

Two years ago, the United Way of Broward County began requiring youth serving partners to use school data to measure program performance.  Because access to students’ electronic records requires parental permission, the requirement has forged closer connections between Big Brothers Big Sisters and mentee parents.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County President and CEO Ana Cedeno said the agency’s match support specialists serve as a bridge, directing families to other United Way resources that focus on poverty, single-parenting, parental incarceration, language and cultural differences, and other issues that often impact high risk students’ support systems.  Cedeno believes that closer connection with parents has contributed greatly to the pilot’s early success.

Among youth enrolled during the 2010-2011 funding cycle, 87 percent have shown improvement in knowledge/academics; 95 percent have demonstrated improved social interaction/confidence; and 88 percent have demonstrated improvement in their attitudes/behavior.

“We serve an incredibly diverse mix of families representing 52 languages and ethnicities – Latino, African American and a range of Caribbean cultures,” Cedeno said.  “Families can easily become isolated in their own neighborhoods.  Partnering with us to help their children succeed can empower parents as participants in their child’s education and as citizens in the greater Fort Lauderdale community.”

The Broward County Public School system has been a central supporter of the unique partnership.

“I am excited about the momentum of this program and look forward to creating an environment that encourages even greater outcomes.  The first college graduate in a Jamaican-American family, I believe we must leverage the diverse resources of our unique community to dramatically transform public education,” said Robert W. Runcie, Broward County Superintendent of Schools.  “All children deserve to receive resources necessary to give them the quality education they deserve.”
3. Winston-Salem, North Carolina
In Winston-Salem, the United Way of Forsyth County is leveraging its role as funder of mentoring and other youth programs, working instead as a strategic partner with the agencies to align their efforts against a common goal of increasing the local graduation rate from 74 to 90 percent by 2018.

Three years ago, through Winston-Salem’s Big Brothers Big Sisters, Sheryll Strode met her Little Sister mentee, Brianna, whose enrollment was part of the “Graduate.  It pays” program, which paired repeat ninth graders (and has since expanded to include struggling ninth graders) with one-to-one mentors.  It’s part of part of a comprehensive resource funding partnership headed by the United Way of Forsyth County.  Today, 73 percent of the students in the program during its first year are still enrolled in school, 81 percent of whom are scheduled to graduate with their 2012 class.

That success is partially due to the caring adults who stepped up in the community, said Amy R. Mack, President and Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters Services, Inc.  “Finding caring adults interested in serving this population felt like a stretch but our inaugural volunteers for the ‘Graduate. It pays.’ program not only met the challenge, but exceeded our expectations,” she said.  “The relationships flourished and student performance improved.  Prior to being matched with mentors, these students demonstrated risk factors for dropping out, and some even said that was their intention.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is also part of the “Graduating Our Future” program, a similar partnership with United Way, the YMCA and the Winston Salem/ Forsyth County School System that provides year-long, one-to-one mentoring for students in high drop-out-rate middle schools.  New Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Survey results find students paired for one year or longer are improving in educational, behavioral and socio-emotional areas.

Big Brothers Big Sisters will build on this data as part of a pilot in the Community Data Sharing project.  Funded through United Way and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the program connects local agencies to individual educational achievement data, allowing programs to connect youth survey data to academic results.  United Way is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters to expand this successful program to include more middle and elementary schools.
4. Louisville, Kentucky
Two years ago, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana partnered with Louisville’s Metro United Way to launch “Turning Up the Heat.” The program strengthens one-to-one, community-based mentoring with group activities that expose middle school students to colleges and careers.

“This kind of community-based mentoring is unique for our agency in that parents of students in the program allow us to access their children’s school records,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana President and Chief Executive Officer Jeri Swinton.  “This enables us to provide guidance to mentors to help them work on or enlist other resources to target specific academic or behavioral issues.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Survey data reflects improvements in pilot mentees’ grades, behavior and socio-emotional outcomes.

Mentors make a one-year commitment to spend quality time with their mentees two to three times each month.  The one-to-one activities are supplemented with participation in coordinated community activities, including college tours, motivational presentations and career workshops offered by other Metro United Way-funded partners.


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