April 12, 2021

Monday, April 12, 2021

New Insights from Collaborative Partnership Focused on Equity-Driven Educational Transformation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has launched a new website to share the lessons learned and opportunities that have emerged through its work in supporting the transformation of the Battle Creek Public School System (BCPS). 

In 2017, WKKF announced a five-year, $51 million investment to fund a comprehensive, equity-informed transformation to achieve success for every student in the district.

The commitment was a result of a 2017 New York University study commissioned by BCVision, the community engagement initiative in Battle Creek working to make the city a place where people want to live, work and play. The study revealed racial bias and segregation, income inequality and concentrated poverty in BCPS among people of color, as well as achievement gaps between BCPS and other Battle Creek area school districts. 

A new website has launched to highlight learnings and achievements in education, racial equity and community partnerships as a result of WKKF’s partnership with BCPS and the joint commitment to transforming the school district.  

"The past year has revealed to all of us how urgent it is that we work together to achieve racial healing and racial equity in communities across the country," La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of WKKF said in a press release. "We know that educational equity is a huge part of that. While we know it will take more than five years to undo the damage done by decades of disinvestment in the district, we believe the extraordinary work of Battle Creek Public Schools to transform so much in such a short period of time can serve to inform equity-driven educational transformation nationwide.”

According to the website, the journey to transform BCPS is centered on ensuring equitable educational opportunities for all students, setting them up for success in career, college and the community. The transformation has focused on three key areas: 

•    Racial equity.

•    Community engagement and partnerships.

•    Excellence in education.

The website shares what this work has looked like in action, highlighting achievements within the key focus areas. 

Racial Equity

•    142 in-person and 56 virtual Transformational Teacher Institute (TTI) sessions have been held. According to the site, TTI offers professional development through in-person or virtual sessions that cover equitable practices, trauma-informed practices, social justice, restorative justice and creating welcoming environments.

•    246 students were supported by Communities in Schools (CIS) Site Coordinators in the 2019-2020 school year. BCPS partnered with CIS to utilize school-based site coordinators who refer families to community resources so students can focus on learning. 

•    According to the site, research shows that exclusionary practices (any punishment that pulls a student out of the classroom) both harm student learning and disproportionately impact students of color. BCPS is working toward minimizing school expulsion by implementing restorative practices that de-escalate conflict, repair relationships and help to prevent future challenges. Restorative conversations were used 1,163 times in year three and contributed to a decrease in detentions (from 1,091 detentions in 2018 to 370 in 2019).

Community Engagement and Partnerships

•    When schools closed due to COVID-19, BCPS implemented a food distribution program, the COVID-19 Community Meals Program, providing breakfast and lunches three days a week at various pickup sites throughout the city. CIS helped coordinate meal deliveries for families who could not access a pickup site. Through the program 491,128 meals were distributed between March and June last year.

•    In the 2018-19 school year, 63 families participated in Parent University sessions that help parents obtain knowledge and skills that empower them to support their children’s success and personal development. 

•    BCPS works with local health providers to ensure students have access to physical and mental health care. According to the site, more than 101 students have been served by the Bearcat Health team who provided wraparound services, including mental health services and in-home interventions. The Bearcat Health Team is a cross-system collaborative team that meets monthly to discuss and problem solve student and family challenges.

Excellence in Education

•    Kindergarten readiness has increased from about 15% in 2013-14 to 40% in 2019-20 through new programming, curriculum and resources.

•    New financial incentives for teachers improved teacher retention, 83% of teachers reported that financial incentives were a contributing factor to their decisions to stay in the district.

•    A new career academy structure in partnership with Ford Next Generational Learning offers students career preparedness opportunities where they are able to declare a career-focused pathway and begin interest-based and experiential learning in their sophomore year.

BCPS and WKKF’s partnership continues as the five-year grant is now in its fourth year. 

Want more?

Visit the new website.

Read the full 2017 New York University Study of Education in Battle Creek.




The Power of Public Spaces: Empowering Communities Amid the Pandemic  

A recent report commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation explores the everyday and long term impacts public space has on surrounding communities and highlights the importance of public spaces for community development. 

The study explores the impact of public spaces and how responsiveness to community needs throughout the design of the spaces actually laid “the groundwork for more equitable outcomes and greater resilience during the pandemic.”

The Knight Foundation commissioned Gehl, a global urban planning, design and strategy firm, to conduct an impact assessment of seven public spaces in its portfolio in Akron, Detroit, Philadelphia and San Jose.

In Detroit, the study highlighted two public spaces, Ella Fitzgerald Park and The Riverfront. 

According to the report, these public spaces provided equitable access to communities and helped them weather the pandemic. 

While stay-at-home orders and distancing measures were put in place, residents continued to seek out public outdoor spaces. 

The study found that respondents that were surveyed reported visiting the parks more frequently than residents near other sites during the pandemic. Approximately 58% of Ella Fitzgerald Park respondents said they visit the park as often as or more frequently than before.

Pre-pandemic these Detroit public spaces were supporting community development in an inclusive and community-centered way which set the stage for community members to engage and enjoy these spaces safely in the pandemic. The report provides insights into the design and functions of these public spaces pre-pandemic to highlight opportunities for future community spaces.

Ella Fitzgerald Park

In 2018, Ella Fitzgerald Park was transformed from 26 vacant lots into a neighborhood park that now provides a venue for community art and recreational space as well as workforce development programs. 

The park reflects local character through mosaics and graphics, in addition to popular draws like a basketball court and play area. 

According to the report, workforce development programs helped to sustain site maintenance and offered job pathways for residents. For example, Ella Fitzgerald Park partnered with Greening of Detroit, a local organization that hires workers with barriers to employment, such as criminal records or lack of transportation. The partnership has provided career pathways to 20 Fitzgerald neighborhood residents to date with a 90% job placement rate.

The partnership also has a youth program that helps high school students secure scholarships to attend historically Black colleges to study forestry. The program also connects students with internships which leads to permanent job placements. 

According to the report, Fitzgerald Park received funding from Reimagining the Civic Commons, a funder collaborative made up of several foundations including two CMF members, The Knight Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. 

Among respondents to the survey for this impact assessment, when asked if they could live anywhere they wanted, 60% of Ella Fitzgerald Park respondents would choose to stay.

The Detroit Riverfront

The Detroit Riverfront was once an aging industrial area and is now integrated with art and local businesses. Adapting existing infrastructure drove residents to visit spaces in new ways. 

The integration of arts and creativity in the design of the space led to diverse resident engagement, with this approachability showing up online. 
The report shares that the reimagined site attracts more regional visitors than any other project studied, according to survey data and analysis of social media content at the site.

According to the study, The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has a Community Advisory Team (CAT) that helps inform programming and improvements to the site.

Funding commitments from Knight and other funders helped many of these projects absorb risk and build the buy-in and legitimacy needed to secure other funding sources. 

The Knight Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, each invested in Detroit Riverfront's Freight Yard. The Knight Foundation was an early investor in the Detroit Riverfront, and their recent investment came with over $900,000 in co-funding from other sources.

Another CMF member has invested in the riverfront. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced a $100 million grant to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy for a new park and network of trails. Of that, $40 million will be used to develop the west riverfront park, which is expected to be completed in 2022 and named the Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park.

The report highlights five key areas that local leaders and philanthropy can consider in future community spaces:

•    Challenges related to physical connectivity: Improve access to the spaces. 

•    Challenges around inclusion and trust among communities of color: Expand support of local organizations and fund ongoing community participation efforts.

•    Manage resident concerns about displacement: Changes to a public space can generate fear around issues like housing security, improvements should be resident-centered and planning efforts should be community based.

•    Create sustainable operating models, diversify revenue sources: The report shares funders might play both a convening and a funding role — bringing stakeholders together to explore how public spaces can generate sustainable revenue.

•    Create opportunities for cross-project knowledge exchange: According to the report, each grantee shared how valuable it was to discuss common challenges and generate new ideas with other public space leaders.

According to the report, these findings are a call to action for policymakers and funders. By elevating public spaces, leaders nationwide can drive more equitable outcomes in the pandemic and beyond.

The report shares, “these lessons emphasize the importance of engaging, reflecting, and empowering communities throughout the lifecycle of a public space — from design to programming to operations.”

Want more?

Read the full study.



Social Distancing, Virtual Venues: Supporting Arts & Culture Organizations in the Pandemic and Beyond 

The pandemic has created significant challenges for organizations with business models centered on in-person engagement. The arts and culture sector has been particularly strained, forced to reimagine what engagement looks like in the pandemic. 

Data from Grantmakers in Arts shows that as of the end of 2020 63% of creatives were unemployed due to the pandemic. 

According to a survey by Americans for the Arts, an estimated $14.6 billion was lost in the arts and culture sector in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19.  

Throughout the pandemic Michigan philanthropy has been leading through crisis, providing more flexibility to nonprofit partners, creating new partnerships and deepening collaboration to support the nonprofit sector and the communities we serve. 

Several CMF members have also been working closely with arts and culture organizations to ensure they can continue providing community engagement opportunities in the pandemic and beyond. 

As the pandemic unfolded, CMF connected with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (CFSEM) to learn more about their partnership with CultureSource, a member association for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Southeast Michigan. 

CFSEM and CultureSource worked together in launching the COVID-19 Arts and Creative Community Assistance Fund, a regional fund supported by a dozen CMF members to assist the cultural sector during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Recently, CFSEM announced that five organizations will receive $55,000 from the assistance fund for projects that creatively connect with their audiences while adhering to social distancing regulations.

CFSEM has also continued to administer Staging Change Detroit, a joint effort with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation where members of 10 professional theater organizations in Detroit joined together in a cohort designed to network and develop strategies to grow Detroit’s theater scene.

“We have had the opportunity to learn a number of lessons from our partners in the arts sector and in particular, the Staging Change program,” Gregory Yankee, senior program officer, CFSEM, told CMF.  “Staging Change’s 10 participating theater organizations have faced the expected challenges for a traditionally ticket-based, in-person experience like theater. They are thinking ahead on how to adapt to technological needs while continuing to address important societal concerns. For funders, this might mean working with organizations as they revisit their earned revenue models in the COVID-19 era, as well as the availability of safe, accessible space for performances.”

The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation partnered with a Detroit theater organization, Shakespeare in Detroit (SiD) for their 2021 Summer Conservatory. A special youth-lead production of “Romeo and Juliet” revisits the classic Shakespearean tale featuring youth actors from the city of Detroit and will be recorded and offered virtually.

“The foundation believes that this is a critical time to continue supporting the arts community. This is a chance to double-down on support to our existing partners, to practice active listening and to deepen community engagement by responding to needs that are brought to our attention,” Chelsea R. Landry, program partner at the Fisher Foundation, told CMF. 

More than a year into the pandemic, nonprofits, especially arts and culture organizations, have had to adapt to the impacts the pandemic has had on their ability to fill seats and host crowds. 

“Despite the many hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen tremendous creativity and innovation from our grant partners. It is an exceptionally difficult task to reimagine your organization’s work to fit such an unpredictable situation, but our grant partners have managed it. We are incredibly proud to play a small role in their success,” Landry said.

Yankee said that while the business models of these organizations are changing to adapt to the constraints of the pandemic, continued support is needed. 

“The last year has provided ample opportunity to highlight the importance of a healthy nonprofit arts and culture sector. Who hasn’t found relief or escape in something created or performed? Those performances and that creativity deserves ongoing support and with potential changes to what ticketing and earned revenue looks like, that might mean flexibility on what funders will consider supporting,” Yankee told CMF. 

Landry shared that funding in the arts sector may continue to look different in the post-pandemic world.

“We believe we need to be flexible, not only with our specific grant requirements, but in every interaction we have within the community. Moving forward into a post-pandemic world will require greater collaboration and empathy than our sector may have seen in the past,” Landry shared.



Member Spotlight

CMF Members Support Grand Rapids Youth Employment Program 

The city of Grand Rapids recently announced the launch of its 2021 summer youth employment program, GRow1000. Several CMF members are supporting the program including, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Donor Advised Fund of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, DeVos Family Foundations, Frey Foundation and Wege Foundation. 

GRow1000 was launched the summer of 2020 in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing racial and economic disparities. The 2021 GRow1000 program will offer young people 120-hour work experiences over six weeks this summer. 

According to the press release, youth participants will work 20 hours each week earning $10 an hour for those under 18 and $13 an hour for those 18 and older.

The city will process applications and match them to available positions.  

Area businesses and organizations will introduce youth to real-world work environments, provide mentorship and create pathways to future careers through this program.

According to the press release, in summer of 2020, GRow1000 helped employ 354 youth at more than 60 unique job sites that spanned area businesses, nonprofit organizations, health care and higher education institutions and government.

Through this experience, area businesses and organizations will introduce youth to real-world work environments, provide mentorship and create pathways to future careers. 

“Providing meaningful work is important in helping our youth stay productive and build skills during the summer. There are more than 9,000 youth in Grand Rapids between the ages of 15 and 21. Nearly three-quarters (73%) are under the age of 18 and are persons of color. Investing in GRow1000 means investing in our community’s future!” Mark Washington, city manager, said in a press release. 

Want more?

Read the full press release.

Learn more about GRow1000.

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