Systemic change is actually necessary at both the national and local levels. In fact, most companies focus their initiatives on the communities in which they operate. Those that do address the issues on a broader scale, do so by recognizing that their goal is to develop competence in the national educational system with enough flexibility to meet the needs of local communities and schools.
Tim Knowlton, Director of Corporate Affairs at Kellogg Company says, "We came to the important conclusion that education is a community responsibility for all stakeholders. We realized that we needed to make an impact locally before we could try to do so nationally." Charlotte K. Frank, Vice President, Research and Development, Educational and Professional Publishing Group at The McGraw-Hill Companies, echoes Knowlton's sentiment: "The McGraw-Hill Companies has been in New York City for over 100 years--we want young people who have gone through our schools to be capable of getting jobs here. We also recognize the need to work with schools across the United States wherever we are located." JC Penney's company spokesperson, Cami Alexander adds, "We want kids in general to grow up, to be educated, and successful. Our business can't be successful if they aren't successful."
The investment made by companies is a long-term one. In a short-term society where quarterly earnings and productivity measures are priority with speed of change and competition in a global economy, it can be challenging to keep some of these initiatives on the radar screen. Tracy Koon, Director at Intel, explains, "We have to be in this for the long-term. It is about establishing the credibility, the presence and the relationship."
Early Education: Audris Tillman, Research Associate at The Conference Board, notes, "Studies have shown that intervention can make a significant impact as early as three years old. The point is, for kids to be prepared for college, they need good experience in pre-school, grammar school, junior high and high school." Kellogg's Knowlton adds: "Tremendous opportunity exists in the early years. Any community that wants to maximize performance will take responsibility at these early years." Kellogg launched a program called "Learning Now" to inform caregivers about early brain development and a healthy environment before school. In addition to television, brownbag luncheons, and news announcements, Kellogg put early childhood development information on more than 20 million of their product packages.
Basic Literacy: Many corporate initiatives focus on basic literacy. The Baltimore Sun has instituted a program called Reading by Nine. Working closely with schools, other corporations, and employee volunteers, The Baltimore Sun reaches students throughout the state of Maryland. One of the measurable outcomes being monitored is state test scores. Luwanda Walker Jenkins, Director of Community Affairs at The Sun, comments on the success of the program: "We have had over 100 employee volunteers impacting over 730 children. We found that kids get really motivated, are learning to see reading as a fun activity rather than a chore, and generally improve their self-esteem. We are also getting more parents involved." Like Kellogg, The Sun has used its medium, in this case the newspaper to communicate the issues, and even provide opportunities for children to be published.
Mathematics and Science: With technological advances and the increase in jobs demanding high-tech skills and degrees, many companies are also providing developmental opportunities in the sciences. Intel's Harvard Scholars Program launched this past spring is a three-way partnership between Intel, the Society of Black Educators and the Healing Institute. Through the initiative, approximately 100 minority students were identified in 44 schools and 14 districts. This long-term commitment is dedicated to developing children over the next 12 to 13 years by exposing them to the sciences, mathematics, career and character development, and performance recognition. Intel's Regional Program Manager, Julie Dunkle, comments on the program: "We provide a variety of experiential opportunities with the classroom. Children actually build their own laptop computers. We take them to camps, field trips, expose them to college campuses and provide them with mentors. We even get the parents involved."
After-school: The "latchkey kid" has become a familiar term for us in America and JC Penney has recognized a need that these children have. "After-school programs consistently rank high in research findings from people in our customer groups as a key issue affecting society," says Alexander. "Fifteen million kids are home alone after school. So, we launched an initiative with the Boys and Girls Club and the After School Alliance to increase quantity and quality of learning-based activities after school so kids can be more productive, mentored, and improve and develop skills." Alexander reminds us that corporations are inextricably intertwined with society. "This definitely affects our current workforce of 260,000 associates, many who have kids of their own. Employees who don't have to worry about their children are more productive and more loyal when they know the company cares." Kellogg's Knowlton notes, "We found data that suggests about 80 percent of performance on standardized test scores is related to factors outside the school. We need to be thinking about the whole child--in and out of the classroom."
Building the foundation is critical. But society can't wait, businesses can't wait. There are students out there in junior high, high school and college with great leadership potential who need an intervention now. NACME has established a program called "Engineering Vanguard." It is targeted at inner-city schools and they do their own assessment of junior-year high school students who participate in workshops where they are assessed on analytical strength, critical thinking, and motivation and creativity. Once students are selected, they are put through a very intense academic preparation focusing on math and science and then all are put on full scholarship. Campbell explains, "These kids would not be accepted under traditional methods--but we have had a 98 percent retention rate with more than half of our students maintaining a 3.0 GPA--many above 3.5. One of our students who went to a major university had a combined SAT of 800. He is now graduating at the top of his class with a 3.94 GPA. Our goal is to expand the pipeline--not just enhance those already there."