Partnerships create the potential for great outcomes
By Vincent Lyles,
President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee
Partnerships always have the potential to make history when like-minded individuals or groups come together to address an issue, solve a problem or create something new and exciting. Most of all, partnerships have the potential to create great outcomes that can benefit an entire community.
At Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, we have more than 300 community and public sector partners who work with us to provide opportunities for our members that will help them achieve their goals. Our biggest partnership is with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Together, we’re fulfilling our missions while preparing Milwaukee’s children to become tomorrow’s adults.
Our partnership with MPS began in 2000 with Boys & Girls Clubs operating 12 after school programs as 21st Century Community Learning Centers. We were among the first Boys & Girls Clubs in the nation to follow the Clubhouse within a school model. Over the past decade, Boys & Girls Clubs expanded from 19 to 36 Clubs – 29 of them within MPS. This model works well for both of us. MPS students flow freely from school to the Club each day and gives them familiarity and structure. We also employ some school staff who can extend their expertise after school.
Along with familiar settings and faces, our partnership with MPS brings added value for students. Boys & Girls Clubs invests approximately $3 million worth of programming – the same programs we offer in our stand-alone Clubhouses – to our locations within MPS. Club programs center on academic success, civic involvement and healthy lifestyles. From independent research studies, students who attend Boys & Girls Clubs and participate frequently in our programs have been shown to perform better academically, are more likely to volunteer and make more positive life choices than their neighborhood peers.
Another example of how our partnership with MPS benefits Milwaukee’s youths is our joint commitment to early literacy. This is an important issue because from kindergarten to third grade, children are learning to read. From fourth grade on, they are reading to learn. Students who struggle with reading become adults who struggle to hold jobs, are more likely to have prolonged periods of unemployment, need welfare assistance and are more likely to end up in jail. Our joint concern is to increase Milwaukee’s high school graduation rate so all of us can thrive economically and compete on a global scale.
To that end, in 2005 Boys & Girls Clubs launched its SPARK Early Literacy Initiative at five locations where Clubs were either connected to or within a MPS location. Through SPARK, teachers identify struggling readers in grades kindergarten through third grade. With another partner, AmeriCorps, Boys & Girls Clubs hires tutors who work one-on-one with students to improve their reading proficiency and comprehension. The goal is to have these students reading at grade level by third grade. During the 2010-2011 school year, the percentage of SPARK Early Literacy Initiative participants reading at, or above, grade level increased from 39 to 76 percent – an improvement of 95 percent.
Today, Boys & Girls Clubs operates SPARK at eight MPS locations. In 2010, thanks to the success of our partnership with MPS on making an impact among young readers, Boys & Girls Clubs received a 5-year development grant worth $4.14 million from the U. S. Department of Education as one of its i3 recipients (Investing in Innovation Fund). The grant is for the Milwaukee Community Literacy Project with Milwaukee Public Schools as our collaborative partner. Together, we’re working to increase the number of students reading at grade level and increasing their likelihood to graduate from high school. Having more high school graduates will benefit the entire community in the years to come.
Strong partnerships like the one between Boys & Girls Clubs and MPS allow for both sides to share their expertise and resources to meet their respective goals while positively impacting others. Furthermore, our partnership is further boosted by the support we receive from parents, volunteers, donors, teachers and students. We look forward to continuing our work with MPS and our other community partners, as we all seek to improve the lives of Milwaukee’s children and teens.