American Graduate: Thriving Together

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An initiative called “Thriving Together” has been started that brings together more than 200 leaders from 60 local organizations, all with the goal of improving educational results for a quarter-million children in the Phoenix metropolitan area and create a better future for our state. Gonzalo de la Melena, president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Anel Mercado, Thriving Together director, and Dr. Mario Ventura, Superintendent of the Isaac School District in Phoenix, will discuss Thriving Together and its goals.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of "American Graduate" looks at why fewer than half of students who graduate in the Phoenix Union High School district go on to college. For many the problems start in elementary school and not passing certain benchmarks. Shana Fischer and Kyle Mounceshow us the new community based initiative whose main assignment is helping these students thrive.

VIDEO: Quite a few come with really big gaps in phonic skills. Most of them don't have books at home.

It's Blanchard's job to make sure all of the students in her class are proficient in reading by the end of the school year.

By the time you get to the third grade, you have to know how to read, because by fourth grade you're only learning from the reading. They are not going to work on phonics with you as much as your primary teachers will. They expect you to know your sight words and to be able to figure out what a word means. Third grade is a transition from learning how to read, to learning from the reading.

Now Blanchard and her colleagues get help from an initiative called Thriving Together. It's collaboration between the educational community and the business and nonprofit community. The goal is to help the 250,000students in Phoenix successfully achieve benchmarks in reading and math, and eventually set them up to be successful in college or trade schools.

We're abandoning those programs that don't work and focusing on those practices that work and replicating them throughout the system.

Dr. Kent Scribner is the superintendent of Phoenix Union High School district. He's also the cochairman of thriving together. The baseline report released shows one in three third graders in Phoenix area schools failed a state reading assessment test.

So from my perspective, if we can have our students read at grade level, do math at the appropriate levels, our students are great resources to contribute to the Phoenix and Arizona economy in the years to come.

Blanchard adds the need for her class to be literate goes beyond grooming a workforce.

If they go to vote and they don't have a clue what they are voting for, they will be changing our laws. Our community needs to be involved with reading because our kids are part of the community.

All of Blanchard's hard work is paying off.

Baseball ticket stubs.

Her students enjoy reading and perhaps most importantly are focused on their future.

when I grow up I want to be an author because I love reading so much .It can make you smart so when you grow up you can have a good job.

Thriving Together's leaders admit they have their hands full but say now is not the time to give up.

Because our students are not problems that need to be solved. Our students are assets that need to be invested in. If you want a prosperous economy and prosperous economy, we need to invest in our students today.

Here now to tell us more about thriving together is Gonzalo de la Melena, the President and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic chamber of commerce. Anel Mercado, director of Thriving Together. And Dr. Mario Ventura, the superintendent of the Isaac School District here in Phoenix. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

GONZALO DE LA MELENA: Appreciate it.

TED SIMONS: The idea of preparing for the success from birth to career: Tell me more about this.

GONZALO DE LA MELENA: Think of it as a continuum and how we build the pipeline for the future and identify those students early in the process, and taking them all the way through career placement. It's a comprehensive approach and that's what thriving together achieves, is pursuing, that holistic approach.

TED SIMONS: We heard that, obviously saw what we saw, Thriving Together. Give us a definition of what it really is.

ANEL MERCADO: It's based off a framework that started in Cincinnati about 10 years ago, really looking at collective impacts. Bringing together the community leaders have a shared community vision. What do we want for our area. Second, it's around data. How do we use the data not to beat folks over the head, we like to say use the data like a flashlight, not a hammer.

TED SIMONS: And when that data gets to you, what do you do with it?

MARIO VENTURA: We look at the data and think about, how can we improve our program. By identifying studies at work, we can use that data to influence the classroom and have better achievement for our students.

TED SIMONS: When we talk about bringing together community resources, again, give us examples. What are we talking about here?

GONZALO DE LA MELENA: I think it's connecting the dots between community leaders and corporations and small business owners. If we're going to build thefuture pipeline and work force Arizona we need to startreally developing those studentsat a young age.

TED SIMONS: Have we seen maybe a lack of connectivity there in the past?

Obviously not enough was done in the past, correct?

GONZALO DE LA MELENA: If you think about Arizonacompeting in the global economyand the future, the demographicsare dramatically changing inthis market.41% of K-12 are children ofLatino background.We need to invest in thesechildren to be competitive inour local economy.

TED SIMONS: I like the idea ofbenchmarks, what kids have tomeet and when.

ANEL MERCADO: Certainly. The first benchmark is children being ready to enterkindergarten.And then the third grade reading because of the new reading laws,another important benchmark.Eighth grade math tells us something important.If they don't pass 9th grade algebra it tells us something about them not being on track.Then the college enrollment, attainment and reading intoactually obtaining a career.

TED SIMONS: As far as getting the metrics in place and figuring out howthey work, from where you sit isit difficult?

MARIO VENTURA: No, actually thriving together has made it simple forus. They have a group of folks that bring that data and make it useable, make it user friendly. We have the goals in place that we were going to work towards. And we also have groups of folks called collaborative data groups. They will use this data more at the micro level to help us improve our programs. But the goals are set and they bring clarity to the whole initiative.

TED SIMONS: What are you seeing? Is it third grade reading that's the biggie? Eighth grade math? Where's the focus?

MARIO VENTURA: We're a K-8 school district, both goals apply to us. In third grade reading, if children are not reading by third grade they are going to struggle in middle school and high school and struggle in graduating. We take it back. How do we prepare our children to do well in third grade. Reading begins at home but then we take over in kindergarten. We focus on developing those early reading skills. Letter recognition, sounds, developing fluency. When they get to third grade, they have to read to learn. It's a whole different skillset. It's more reading comprehension, skills and strategies that can be applied to social studies and sciences. How do we make sure we are getting our kids prepared for lifelong learning.

TED SIMONS: Back out into the community, the importance of this: Are business leaders, community leaders, are they starting to figure out the kids have to read by third grade?

GONZALO DE LA MELENA: I think some of the light that people like Valley of the Sun United Way who serves as the convener in this approach, a lot of leading nonprofits bringing organizations together to really lay out what that framework looks like. That awareness breeds more interest in it. Once people understand the awareness and the objectives, people start to understand their role in it.

TED SIMONS: Is it at all connected to any kind of government mandate?

GONZALO DE LA MELENA: No, not to my knowledge. This is really kind of as Self-subscribed kind of new innovation, which is basically iterations of getting alignment, the right people on the bus, Medicare the right things and creating more efficiency. Almost like they are threading the needle to get to the desired outcome.

TED SIMONS: Getting back into the classroom now, the third graders, getting them to read, and eighth graders, getting them to do math, then you have the high school years. Did well in third grade, eighth grade, it all goes up in smoke in high school.

How do you keep that from happening?

ANEL MERCADO: Dr. Scribner and the folks at Phoenix Union are working hard on that trajectory. How do you bring in the alignment to support the schools' need. They have a lot of different partners that say hey, we want to help you. Sometimes it's overwhelming and they are not sure who's helping to move the needle. It's really around looking at how do we help them to identify what's working in their schools, who are those partners really helping them get their students through the pipeline. And also making those connections between adult whose care with the students.

TED SIMONS: The adults who care include the parents. What happens when you run into kids and the parents are just ambivalent about it all.

ANEL MERCADO: I don't know if they are so much ambivalent. They haven't been necessarily invited or brought in, in a way that speaks to parents. A lot of families, both parents are working, sometimes they have multiple jobs. Parents don't show up for teacher conferences. Maybe they don't have the ability to go in the middle of the day to a teacher conference. Maybe the school has to change how they do teacher conferences to allow for burr participation. Innovative ways of thinking about how to engage with parents Dr. Scribner says I'm pretty sure the kids in our community, parents love them as much as parents in other communities.

TED SIMONS: I'm sure they do, most parents think their kids are the best and the brightest and the whole nine yards. But some parents aren't used to this kind of direction for the kid. How do you deal with those challenges?

MARIO VENTURA: We know we have to do a good job building a relationship with our families. That's where it all begins; making school relevant to the families. I'll give you an example. In Isaac what we do is our parent conferences have changed from that traditional once a quarter to learn about how your child is progressing, and come once a quarter and let us show you the data and how your child progresses with that. We really have to engage our families. It's when we're talking about that individual child and showing the family how important they are to us, and showing them how they can help and be involved in their child's learning, that's where they are going to make progress.

TED SIMONS: We've had stories in the past where parent involvement is key. When they take stuff home to do on their own, the parent has to be there to make sure they are doing it.

MARIO VENTURA: I have to throw this in. This was my research topic for my doctorate. With the Latino community, you may have parents that don't have a lot of time to be there for their kids or be at the school site, but they care. They do something called [in Spanish], they give advice. For example, when I went to school my mom did not speak English but every day I left that house she said -- [in Spanish].It means behave yourself and listen to your teacher. They care and they do the best they can with what they have. As a school site, an organization, we have to do our best to continue to draw them in land show them how they can help their children.

TED SIMONS: That sounds like a mom there.

Thriving together: What kind of reaction are we getting? Where is this going to go?

GONZALO DE LA MELENA: I think the business community in particular is excited because they can provide insights into what the future workforce development needs are, A. Two, B, they are able to also provide opportunities. If it's shadowing opportunities, internship opportunities, really be part of that value change that we described.

TED SIMONS: This is not lip service, they are seeing these opportunities?


TED SIMONS: They are?


TED SIMONS: Where does thriving together go from here?

ANEL MERCADO:Right now we spent a year and a half laying a foundation. We have some very invested leaders and our teams are running. We're going into where the rubber meets the road, we're really working with schools and school districts around changes in the classrooms, changing systematically. We couldn't move the needle without the partners at the table. It's about scaling what works. When we talk about the parent engagement, I can point to a school in our community that has great parent engagement. Then we go to a school where it isn't great and we can start to scale on those effective practices.

TED SIMONS:Congratulations, congratulations to you all, thank you for a great discussion.

Thank you.

And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Gonzalo de la Melena:Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO;Anel Mercado:Thriving Together director;Dr. Mario Ventura:Isaac School District Superintendent

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