For the students of today, a role in the workforce of tomorrow might have very little to do with a desk and a cubicle – instead, for some of them, a normal day could involve the use of a 3D printer, a laser cutter, a drone, or even a robot. Who better to help students explore these new skills as early as possible than a K-12 school? Franklin Road Academy presented its own brand of future-minded thinking in 2017 when it launched the Innovation Lab, a 2,000-square-foot space that offers students hands-on learning experiences using the tools and technologies they might encounter in a modern STEM workplace, while also allowing for creativity and problem-solving. Today, in addition to their regular coursework, you’ll find Franklin Road Academy (FRA) students using the Innovation Lab for robotics and Science Olympiad competitions.
“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” This Chinese proverb is embodied in the work of Nashville PROPEL, a parent-led organization dedicated to equipping Metro Nashville Public Schools parents with the knowledge and tools to demand a world-class education for all.
An abbreviation for “Parents Requiring Our Public Education System to Lead”, Nashville PROPEL is committed to educating parents and grandparents, particularly in Black and Brown communities, about the state of their local schools and of the larger education landscape. They do this by prioritizing conversations around student and school data, aiming to answer the question: what should a good school look like? The organization helps to train and support parents so they can feel confident in advocating for their children. “We’re not into convincing people. We do want to provide the knowledge and have them make informed decisions,” said the organization’s Executive Director, Sonya Thomas.
Parents who are willing and ready to take action are encouraged to join the movement via the Fellowship, a 6-week program that provides education on the history of Nashville’s public schools, the landscape today, and how parents can advocate for improvement. As part of the effort, participants are encouraged to attend school board meetings, press conferences, and other public events so that their voices can be heard.
Just this year, PROPEL has built 900 unique relationships with parents in the Nashville Community. Nearly 400 parents have completed training sessions with Nashville PROPEL and 80 parents have graduated from PROPEL’s public advocacy fellowship. Since its founding in 2018, PROPEL has gained not only local attention, but also statewide and national recognition. Although Sonya Thomas says the organization’s most significant accomplishment has been its ability to amplify local parent voices, the organization is also proud to have been featured on APM Reports “What the Words Say”, BET’s “Disrupt and Dismantle” and the NBC Nightly News, among other media outlets!
PROPEL is committed to organizing and developing parent leaders that will advocate for equitable education practices and policies in Nashville public education. The Scarlett Family Foundation is proud to support the work of an organization that empowers families and so clearly shares the belief that every student in Nashville deserves access to a high-quality education, no matter their zip code.Read More
It is undeniable that teachers have an incredible influence and make an everlasting impact in the lives of their students. According to a Teach For America article posted in 2019, studies also show that students taught by teachers who share their identities and look like them can benefit even more, both academically and emotionally.
In an effort to better match the the system’s teacher population to the increasingly diverse student population in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), Lipscomb University, with the support of MNPS and the Scarlett Family Foundation, launched Pionero Scholars, a scholarship and outreach program to create a local pipeline of aspiring teachers from students who grew up in Nashville and understand the culture and context of Nashville’s many different neighborhoods.
Pionero offers MNPS graduates the scholarship support and opportunity to become a part of Lipscomb University’s nationally-ranked College of Education. The program encourages students from underrepresented backgrounds, those who are first in their family to attend college, and/or those from low-income backgrounds to consider the teaching profession. Past and present Pionero Scholars have enrolled from eight different high schools across Metro Nashville, representing 12 different countries of origin, and speaking eight different languages.
For some students, the scholarships can be crucial in their ability to attend college. But Pionero students also enjoy a loving and supportive community of peers and mentors that support them throughout their teacher preparation and as they transition as teachers into their classrooms.
Ruby, a Pionero alumni who now works at her alma mater, Glencliff High School in Nashville, talks about the Pionero Program and the impact it has had on her life and career path: “I’m thankful for Pionero for the simple reason that there were people in the program that took a chance on me and believed in my potential and my power in making a change in my community.
“That went a long way in a moment when I doubted myself just to know that I had a community of mentors and of peers who were in the journey with me and more than willing to help me along the process. They understood that as a student of color, I had different needs and they were there to help me find the necessary resources to accomplish my goal of graduating from college.”
Watch this video to hear about Ruby and two other Pionero alumni who are now shaping the lives of MNPS students everyday in local classrooms.Read More
For too many high school seniors, the transition from high school to college or to a career can be a period of confusion and uncertainty. As college brochures, job listings, and financial aid forms pile up in front of them, even the most determined student may find themselves desperate for support. For minority students at Warren County High School in McMinnville, TN, this is where Leah Simpson steps in. Employed as the school’s Minority Liaison since 2018, Leah is responsible for guiding underrepresented students – many of them identifying as Hispanic/Latino – to their best-fit post-secondary pathway. With a focus on building trust and fostering relationships, Leah is working to create a new generation of college-and-career-ready high-school graduates in her community.
A former teacher at Warren County High School (WCHS), Leah’s desire to support underserved students stemmed from years of watching too many graduates leave the high school without a post-grad plan. She noticed that this transition seemed to be particularly challenging for students whose parents had not attended college themselves, had immigrated to the United States, or did not speak English. With this observation in mind, Leah set out to support not only students, but entire families. Today, when Leah begins the process of educating a WCHS student on their post-high school opportunities, she is sure to include the student’s family in the conversation.
In a normal year, a week in Leah’s shoes might involve a field trip – the class of 2020 visited Cumberland University, Tennessee Tech University, and a Nissan manufacturing facility – or a FAFSA Frenzy event, along with dozens of one-on-one meetings with her students. However, 2020 was not a normal year. As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted school-as-usual, Leah leaned on Google Classroom to ensure continued support to her students. This digital solution allowed Leah to provide the guidance she would ordinarily offer inside school walls – guidance related to the ACT, college admissions, community services opportunities, summer programs, and more. Despite the many challenges caused by COVID-19, 80% of Leah’s students in the class of 2020 reported post-graduation plans involving postsecondary education, career, or military service. Those students who pursued postsecondary education were awarded a combined total of over $1.5M in scholarship funds.
As Minority Liaison, Leah’s support of her students extends beyond the high school years. She uses technology to keep in touch with her students; even years after graduation, WCHS graduates have approached Leah for help with everything from FAFSA renewal to assisting with a transfer application. Because Leah invests so much time into building relationships with her students and their families, she is viewed as a trusted resource that can be relied upon to offer guidance and support to her community for years to come. The Scarlett Family Foundation is proud to support Leah Simpson and Warren County High School in their mission to guide all students to a life of success after high school.Read More
There is perhaps no greater gift to a child’s educational experience than the gift of a highly-skilled teacher. Since 2016, Nashville Teacher Residency (NTR) has provided educator preparation training that aims to foster diverse cohorts of new teachers, develop in them an appreciation for their Nashville and Clarksville communities, and – through the cultivation of this high-quality educator pipeline – bring Middle Tennessee one step closer to the dream of excellent education for all.
Through a one-year, state-approved education program, NTR transforms teacher hopefuls from novices to highly effective educators – due in large part to the support of Mentor Teachers, seasoned classroom teachers who provide hands-on, consistent mentorship to NTR residents. This on-the-job training during the school day is the perfect complement to the practice-driven coursework administered by NTR staff at night. NTR’s approach to educator education is not just practical; it’s also proven. According to the 2019 Tennessee Educator Preparation Report Card, Nashville Teacher Residency has the highest percentage of teachers at TVAAS Level 3 and above, as well as the highest percentage of teachers at TVAAS Level 4 and above – compared to 38 total educator preparation programs statewide.
Nashville Teacher Residency’s recent success extends to the national level. In 2019, NTR became one of only eight programs to receive funding through the National Center for Teacher Residencies’ Black Educators Initiative. NTR will use these funds to expand and improve its efforts to recruit and develop Black teachers in Middle Tennessee. Teacher diversity stands as a high priority for the NTR program; across four cohorts, two-thirds of residents have identified as People of Color.
Upon completion of their residency requirements, NTR stays with its cohort members as they navigate the search for full-time employment in the teaching profession. Nashville Teacher Residency’s style of teacher prep might best be described as “all-encompassing”; its individualized style of training and support ensures that residents must never walk alone. The Scarlett Family Foundation is proud to support the work of Nashville Teacher Residency, an organization that so clearly shares the belief that every student deserves the opportunity to learn from the best.Read More
Each day, the educators and administrators of Metro Nashville Public Schools bring their fullest effort, the very best of themselves, to their classrooms in service of Nashville’s children; it is only appropriate that they be given the benefit of a strong support system. Since 1982, PENCIL has played that role for Nashville’s public schools – and in the almost 40 years since the organization’s founding, PENCIL’s impact on the community has only grown. As MNPS educators, students, and families prepare for a back-to-school experience unlike ever before, the tireless work of the PENCIL organization deserves a moment in the spotlight.
PENCIL takes a multi-pronged approach to supporting Nashville’s public education community, one of these being its brick-and-mortar LP PENCIL Box, a teacher supply store that offers classroom essentials to MNPS teachers at absolutely no cost. The value of free classroom supplies cannot be understated, particularly when – as reported by the Tennessean in February 2020 – Nashville teachers regularly spend an average of $410 per year on their own classroom supplies. In the 2019-20 school year, the LP PENCIL Box distributed over $1.8 million in supplies to educators from 159 MNPS schools. But for the PENCIL team, this impressive reach is not good enough. PENCIL understands that certain barriers do exist between Nashville teachers and a visit to the LP PENCIL Box – distance, shop hours, and awareness of the resource, to name a few – and remain committed to developing solutions to these challenges in order to make the Box a truly accessible benefit for all MNPS educators.
Behind the scenes, PENCIL staff serve as the bridge between generous community members interested in supporting MNPS schools and the schools themselves. Equipped with a deep knowledge of school needs, PENCIL is able to recruit and match community members with the students and teachers in need of their skills. In the 2020-21 school year, PENCIL’s Partnership Managers oversaw over 750 such partnerships, working with a range of businesses, universities, faith-based organizations and civic groups. PENCIL staff work diligently to identify a best-fit volunteer opportunity for interested parties, from sorting supplies at the LP PENCIL Box to hands-on tutoring or success coaching in MNPS schools. PENCIL volunteers have been particularly essential in the COVID-19 era, meeting the needs of MNPS students and families by creating at-home learning tool kits to be shared at the district’s meal distribution sites.
PENCIL’s student-centric, partnership-focused work ensures a strong bond between the Nashville community and our MNPS schools. By linking community resources to Nashville’s public education system, PENCIL creates a world of opportunity and support for students, families, and educators. The Scarlett Family Foundation has been proud to support PENCIL since 2009.Read More
But the impact of the Innovation Lab extends far beyond FRA’s own student community. Thanks to a partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), FRA has hosted and collaborated with hundreds of MNPS students and educators through the Summer Innovation Institute. In the summer of 2019, the Institute welcomed over 100 students and eight teachers from four MNPS middle schools for summer camps held in the Innovation Lab. Summer 2019 marked the third summer of this partnership, meaning hundreds of middle school students across MNPS have now had the opportunity to craft, solve, and create using tools like 3D scanners and a virtual reality computer.
Perhaps most impressively, the Summer Innovation Institute experience has sparked community-wide good: in the summers of 2018 and 2019, student innovators used their lab to create products for the Nashville-based nonprofit Shower The People, which provides mobile shower and bathroom facilities to homeless individuals. Through this partnership, students are able not only to explore their own potential, but also to explore how these skills may be a force for good in their communities for years to come.
Thanks to Franklin Road Academy’s Innovation Lab and the Summer Innovation Institute, students across Nashville can dive deeper into science and technology, practice collaboration and problem-solving, and discover new passions. Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented FRA from hosting a 2020 Summer Innovation Institute, the Innovation Lab stands prepared to host students as soon as it is safe to do so, and for many years to come. The Scarlett Family Foundation is proud to support this program.
Since 1919, Junior Achievement has sought to empower students across the nation with the skills they’ll need to thrive in a global economy, providing lessons on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work readiness through engaging, hands-on activities. Today, Junior Achievement reaches approximately 4.9 million students per year – from kindergarten through 12th grade – in all 50 states, and involves leaders from the education, business, and civics sectors in its mission to prepare America’s youth for a successful life. The Scarlett Family Foundation has proudly supported Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee since 2008. \
In Middle Tennessee, Junior Achievement serves over 30,000 students per year, many of whom pass through its Nashville-based JA BizTown. This fully-interactive, simulated town allows its visitors to step inside a business community, creating opportunities for students to advance their understanding of the functions of banking, credit, taxes, customer service, and other essential work-and-life topics. Designed for students in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, the JA BizTown program welcomes visitors from all school settings, whether public, private or homeschool.
In 2020, Middle Tennessee students in grades 7 through 12 will have access to their own hands-on, state-of-the art program within JA, with the launch of the new JA Finance Park.
A Day in JA Finance Park
In the JA Finance Park program, students will explore how the financial choices they make, from higher education to healthcare and more, affect their personal lifestyles and budgets. Upon completion of a 13-week, in-school course, students will visit JA Finance Park and make use of its digital tools to simulate real-life situations around topics like jobs, family support, budgeting, and investment. Students might use their JA Finance Park tablet to go to the bank to apply for a home loan, job hunt, or even pay for items using their “own” credit card. This experience offers exposure to key skills students might not get from a traditional classroom setting, such as negotiation and spending, role-playing, self-reflection, and decision-making.
Offering lessons like, “Got Skills? College or Not?” and “Where’s All My Money?”, combined with the hands-on experience of a day in JA Finance Park, Junior Achievement aims to give its student participants the knowledge they’ll need to make sound personal finance decisions throughout their lives. To learn more about JA Finance Park, click HERE.Read More
Through the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee (BBBS), local children in need of guidance and support are provided with strong and enduring one-on-one mentoring relationships. One of BBBS’ school-based programs, the High School Bigs Literacy Program, gives at-risk elementary students the opportunity to be mentored by an exceptional high school student while also working on critical literacy skills.
The Scarlett Family Foundation has supported this innovative mentoring program since 2014. Rebecca Ackerman, Vice President of Programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, oversees the organization’s many mentoring programs. In this Q&A, we talk to Rebecca about how the program works, and why it has such a unique impact on its participants.
Why did Big Brothers Big Sisters start a literacy program?
One of the impacts we see of mentoring programs in general is increasing academic motivation. But we also see big disparities in academic preparation and achievement among elementary students. That time students are spending with their mentors could be leveraged to increase the number of hours of literacy support a child receives in the course of their school year.
So, we found the mentoring relationship is a great time to not only build connection and academic motivation, but build a foundation for academic achievement.
Where and how does the program operate?
The High School Bigs program matches high school students to elementary students within Rutherford County Schools. The Bigs spend about one hour a week with the student for one school year. The hope is for a healthy, long-term relationship because we know the best outcomes happen in relationships that are a year or longer.
Bigs make time to meet with their matches during the school day, and many give up their free periods to mentor. One high school starts an hour later than elementary schools, so those Bigs get up an hour early to meet with their Littles before their own school day even begins.
All of our high school students go through a rigorous application process and interview. We are looking for students who have a level of maturity, commitment and resilience. They are required to participate in a structured, formal training and connect with a coach on a weekly basis for the first year of their mentoring.
What kinds of things do the Bigs and Littles do together and how do these activities improve literacy?
Each match spends time reading together— the Little has the opportunity to read to their mentor or the mentor to the Little. We also provide literacy based-activities and games for the Bigs to do with the Littles.
Student voice is so critical in the learning experience. So conversation is a really important component of literacy building. Children don’t generally have a lot of time during the school day to engage in in-depth, one-on-one conversations. But having an hour for intentional conversation with their Big to read and discuss what was read increases their vocabulary and literacy comprehension.
How does having older students involved in the program make a difference for the younger students?
These matches are one of the sweetest things to observe. Often, the kids referred to us are struggling academically or socially. Because our Bigs are not an adult, they are safer to take risks with and the Littles have less fear. It is relationship-based learning.
Specifically, we often hear that the Littles feel important to their mentors, which is something that’s pretty remarkable when you think about the mentor relationship. Very often it makes sense where the mentor feels important— but this is one relationship in the Littles’ lives where by virtue of the fact that the high school student is showing up every week and giving them undivided attention, it communicates importance.
How does the program benefit the Bigs, too?
This is as much a resilience-builder for the high school student as it is for the Little. Empathy is a skill that is built through this process— and perseverance. It allows high school students to step out of themselves and to gain a different perspective from another person.
It helps them reflect on their own learning and how they’ve built skills and how they have grown as learners and as people. That process of relating to a young person who is struggling with a skill they have mastered is really grounding.
It helps them build the soft skills that are so necessary in the workforce. As they get ready to head off into college or career, for them to have this perspective that is broader than their own is really critical.
One of the only programs of its kind with an emphasis on literacy, the High School Bigs Literacy Program provides Littles with 30 additional hours of literacy programming over the course of the year.
Horizons at USN: Providing High-Quality, Engaging Summer Opportunities to Help Close the Achievement Gap
When we think of summer, we think of longer days and school-free schedules. But for too many students, summer can also mean learning loss— particularly for low-income students.
Each summer, Horizons provides critical enrichment programs and camps that allow participants to continue their learning even after the school year ends. By providing academic instruction during the summer months, students have the opportunity to improve their math and literacy skills before returning to school in the fall.
Launched in 2014, Horizons National partnered with University School of Nashville to host the first Horizons program in Tennessee. Through this innovative partnership, Horizons at USN supports low-income students from Carter Lawrence Elementary and Rose Park Middle the home school(s) of most Horizons students, who stay with the program through elementary and middle school, building their learning over eight summers.
The Scarlett Family Foundation supports Horizons at USN because all students deserve access to high-quality, engaging summer learning opportunities. There is no fee to any student who participates; and breakfast, lunch and snacks are served everyday.
The program runs for six weeks each summer, five days a week. In addition to academic classes taught by experienced teachers, the students participate in enriching experiences such as field trips, swim lessons, art, music, and drama.
In the summer of 2019, rising third graders completed an immersive unit on outer space, which included writing a research report on a planet, and traveling to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Rising fifth and sixth graders spent two weeks attending half-day USN Summer Camps, exploring topics like coding, engineering, painting, and biology.
Horizons aims to develop confident and competent learners who feel prepared when they return to school in the fall, and will continue to excel and succeed in their school lives for many years to come.
The program just completed its sixth summer, serving 85 rising first-through-sixth graders. The program will add a grade level each year until students are served through eighth grade, eventually hosting 120 participants per summer.
We know that summer learning loss can leave low-income students as many as three years behind their peers by the time they reach fifth grade. Through Horizons programming, students gain an average of two to three months of learning in reading and math skills in just six weeks, keeping them at grade level or above.
By the end of the 2019 summer, rising third grade students averaged six months of growth in reading; and rising sixth graders gained seven months of math skills.
Through high-quality, engaging summer learning opportunities, Horizons helps Nashville students fight learning loss, and ensures they are firmly planted on a path for future success.
For most Middle Tennessee students, the school day doesn’t end when the final bell rings – it follows them home, where they’ll continue to build on their classroom learning through homework assignments. But in this setting, there is no teacher on hand to help if the student faces a stumbling block, and parents or guardians may not be able to provide the guidance needed.
Since 1990, Homework Hotline has provided a solution to this challenge by offering cost-free tutoring to Tennessee students. In the 2018-19 school year alone, Homework Hotline teachers completed 11,731 tutoring sessions with 6,314 unique students, parents or guardians, sessions that totaled 3,780 hours of tutoring – all of it completely free.
The Scarlett Family Foundation has supported Homework Hotline (HH) since 2008. Each school year, Homework Hotline pairs thousands of Tennessee students and their families with certified teachers who can guide them through even the most challenging homework problems.
HH teachers work with all K-12 students, regardless of learning style or educational background, and can do so by phone or through online chat. Teachers and students can even learn together via an online whiteboard, allowing teachers to coach their students step-by-step through the problem-solving process. Students can also share typed essays with HH teachers to receive real-time, savable feedback. By making use of phone or online communication, HH brings homework help right into a student’s home – eliminating the need for a student to travel to a tutoring center.
Homework Hotline also recognizes that Tennessee students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and with different abilities, and seeks to find ways to serve all populations. That’s why the organization employs teachers who speak English, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Farsi, and Swahili. Students who are hearing-impaired can also work with HH teachers through the online chat feature, or by texting photos of their homework to the teacher using the Image Share program.
Homework Hotline strives to be innovative in their offerings in order to ensure that all students can learn and understand their assignments. In 2018, 94% of students expressed understanding of a concept and 83% proved mastery when given a post-test. By providing free, accessible, high-quality homework help, Homework Hotline prepares Tennessee students for success.