Community leaders from the education, nonprofit, business, faith-based, and government sectors joined forces at Lion’s Park in Carpinteria last Wednesday to learn about the THRIVE collaborative, a nonprofit-fueled vehicle for closing the achievement gap between socioeconomically stratified school students. Speaking at the event, dubbed the THRIVE Carpinteria Design Institute, was Jeff Edmondson, the director of a national network of such organizations called Strive. He offered tips on leveraging assets and collecting data to make sure that resources can be gathered and spent efficiently.
Paul Cordeiro, Carpinteria’s schools superintendent who shepherded along the Children’s Project at Main—a defunct elementary school that was converted into a clearing house for pre-kindergarten services including daycare, preschool, and parenting classes—as the first of five locations where THRIVE is operating in the county, said it was a “spread the message day.”
Participants learned that the last years’s data shows 37.1 percent of Carpinteria’s high school seniors graduated ready to attend a UC or CSU whereas 34 percent of students entered primary school kindergarten-ready, a staggering correlation that tends to hold true nationwide. THRIVE’s goal is to increase those numbers along with those of all the measuring sticks in between.
Although THRIVE touts itself as a “cradle-to-career” initiative, of the 44 attendees who have responded to a survey distributed by event organizer and Carpinteria Unified administrator Sally Kingston, a plurality (17) said they believe THRIVE should prioritize years zero-to-five. Pedro Paz, a manager for First 5 Santa Barbara County, agreed that was the best place to start.
He pointed out that the South Coast’s bevy of philanthropic organizations and individuals offer unusual riches, but at the same time, “how you can communicate to all these diverse audiences is a real challenge.” The 120 participants at the Design Institute were therefore offered opportunities to engage with each other and discuss what they believed were the most important academic and non-academic indicators of student success. Edmondson offered alliterative tips—such as “practices not programs—on how to alleviate the natural competition for funding in a finite community. Sitting all the stakeholders in one room was also a start.
Edmondson, who works for the Strive network, spearheaded an effort similar to THRIVE in the Cincinnati area. Based on education reformer Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), such programs follow what in nonprofit speak is called a “collective impact” model. What Canada—who has been immortalized in books and films—understood is that disadvantaged children require services that schools alone cannot provide. With prenatal care, social services, asthma treatment, parenting classes, amongst other services, HCZ attempts to fill the void. Its goal is to surround every child in a 100-block radius with the adult support they need to make it to college. Canada also focuses heavily on measurable outcomes, a message that Edmondson brought to Carpinteria. “Data” was the watchword.
Another of Strive’s pillars, however, is “shared community vision.” One takeaway for Kingston was that those in the Carpinteria community would like to hear the input of students and parents. There are five THRIVE sites throughout Santa Barbara County, but Carpinteria was the first. Kingston was lured to the Carpinteria district from Harding elementary in Santa Barbara, the epicenter of THRIVE Westside, where she had been principal. Her original mandate was to expand the program to primary and secondary school kids. Victoria Juarez, executive Director of Girls, Inc. Carpinteria and member of the THRIVE advisory council, said, “I think that Sally’s done an excellent job at including people in the process.”