Breakthrough Norcross Partners with Local Elementary School

Breakthrough Norcross, after nearly two years of working toward establishing a collective impact project to improve educational outcomes for Norcross students, partnered with Beaver Ridge Elementary to offer a Robotics camp for their rising fourth and fifth graders. Students who are interested in the subject of Robotics were able to sign up for a weeklong day camp over the summer, and, as a  part of my summer internship with Georgia Center for Opportunity, I had the opportunity to check out what was going on at the Robotics Camp ­– dubbed Beaver Bots – last Thursday.

Environmentally, the robotics room is a collection of the parts, programs, and challenges for the robots that would be the primary tool of the weeklong camp. Two teachers facilitate the camp for approximately 30 students, who all spend most of their time in the robotics room. The Mindstorms, as the machines are officially named, are designed by Lego with the capacity to carry out a series of complex tasks. Various challenge courses are then set up in order to test the robots and their human operator through a diverse array of task completion.beaver bots1

The teachers lead each of the kids through the tasks at a very basic level that eventually handed over full reign of the robots and their programming to the kids. In fact, the teachers made it their mission to equip and not baby their students, and the kids loved it. The kids would cheer each other on through their successes and encourage each other through their missteps. Both boys and girls were learning to wrestle with the complex tasks assigned to them, and this development of perseverance – or grit as some call it – served as the crux for success in future tasks for the club.beaver bots

One of the students was so excited about her experience there that she couldn’t help but exclaim how much she loved working with her friends and other students. She remarked that it wasn’t about winning or losing, although that was a component of the camp; but it was about trying your hardest and having fun with friends.

Of course, there were winners and losers, but the winners encouraged the losers, and the losers cheered on the winners; and everyone was having fun. Furthermore, and most significantly, the kids were not criticizing each other for their initial shortcomings on the challenge field. In fact, they outright refused to submit to failure, consistently returning to  the drawing board until they found success.beaver bots2

Kids are playing with robots, encouraging each other, and carving a pathway into higher learning. It sounds utopic and in some regards it really is. It’s the start of something great, albeit unfinished. It’s just one small part of a larger story that’s unfolding through Breakthrough Norcross, and I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.

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This blog was written by Patrick DeMartino.  Patrick is pursuing a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Georgia.  This is his second summer interning with GCO working to support our Solution Delivery work.

CBS Covers Breakthrough Norcross Reception at NHS

Monday afternoon, December 2, Breakthrough Norcross celebrated the completion of its three-part “listening tour” with an authentic White House Reception held at Norcross High School.

Prior to the reception, the last of three working meetings were held in which nearly 30 representatives from numerous business, non-profits, churches, and schools reviewed and made final contributions to the Breakthrough Norcross collective impact strategy.

To aid in celebrating this great milestone, Walter Scheib, former White House Executive Chef to the Clinton and Bush administrations, prepared a wonderful meal for meeting participants, as well as numerous other community representatives invited to hear about Breakthrough Norcross’  cradle to career plan for collective impact.

For those unable to join us, CBS Atlanta covered the event.  See their re-cap here.

Introducing the Breakthrough Ambassadors

A wise friend once said to me, “Know where you’re going before you start running.” For any successful organization, having a solid and precise mission is an imperative. The Breakthrough Ambassadors recently selected their first class of senior ambassadors to accomplish this imperative for the Breakthrough Ambassadors program.

The Breakthrough Ambassadors evolved out of the Breakthrough Norcross collective impact initiative. The inaugural class of approximately 100 students will be exposed to special opportunities such as meeting with executives and professionals from a variety of sectors, and receiving career training and career pathway orientation.

By establishing a precise mission, purpose and characteristics, the Breakthrough Ambassadors now have a clear understanding of how their organization will benefit not only ambassadors but also the community in which they are serving.

Breakthrough Ambassador mission:

  • To remove barriers to opportunity in order to provide everyone with an equal chance to succeed.

Breakthrough Ambassador purpose:

  • A mentoring organization that provides service, leadership development, and networking  opportunities to enhance post high school success

Breakthrough Ambassador characteristics:

  • Innovative- Focus on generating new ideas to solve community challenges
  • Engaged- Operate at a grassroots level to stay relevant to, and to learn from, the communities we serve
  • Influential- Conduct ourselves to develop the expertise, talent and network of relationship to enhance our ability to bring change
  • Trusted- Strive to be reliable, experienced and honest in all we do

Breakthrough Ambassadors will now serve through the broader Breakthrough Norcross Community collective impact network by assisting partners who are working to improve our community. These ambassadors will carry this mission through life as they grow into our future community leaders.

Laying a Solid Foundation for Breakthrough Norcross

Breakthrough Norcross completed a series of meticulously planned working meetings and conversations with community stakeholders culminated on October 14th.  This process was facilitated by GCO, but was driven by the nearly 70 non-profit, church, and other community leaders who have participated in the meetings.  Each of these leaders have integral expertise and front line experience that provide insight into the specific barriers to opportunity that exist for Peachtree Corners and Norcross students.

The vision that these leaders have adapted for Breakthrough Norcross is:

 Every child in the Norcross school cluster will have the necessary support to succeed academically, enter into a meaningful, self-sustaining career and develop into a contributing member of the community.

Success is not going to come easily, and it is certainly not going to come quickly, but this vision is worthy of intense pursuit, and given the unique mix of community assets and intervention programs within the Norcross cluster, I believe we are well positioned to begin the process of transforming our current reality into this great vision.

The image that comes to mind when I think of how this vision positions Breakthrough Norcross is one of a sculptor and large block of marble.  Right now our community – the marble – definitely has some rough edges, and maybe some unsightly blemishes, but it’s still a large block of marble, ripe with potential.

Just as a sculptor starts with the end in mind, taking strategic, intentional action that will slowly move him toward his goal, we have painted a clear picture of where our efforts should take us, now all that’s left is to pick up the hammer and chisel.  There will be some miss-strikes of the hammer, we might have to stop and re-tool for certain aspects of the project, and there will definitely be some blisters during the work.  But, because we have a clear vision, we can now begin the work of making that vision into a reality.

Beginning to Redefine Success

The morning of September 17th, thirty leaders from community businesses, churches, and non-profits gathered at Brenau University’s North Atlanta Campus in Norcross to discuss how a Collective Impact effort could transform the landscape of social-service delivery in the Norcross and Peachtree-Corners communities.

Those at work in this space, quickly recognized the gap between an Isolated Impact approach – or as one meeting participant called it, “Every man for himself” approach – and the Collective Impact model, which focuses on a segmented pathway, where each organization and program serves a key role in getting the “client” to a desired end.

While this meeting was the first step in the process of filling the gaps between a shared community vision and measurable indicators, it marks a definitive transition point.  A foundation was laid that recognizes the great value that each autonomous organization or program represents, yet establishes that each one of them is only capable of it’s most significant impact when working in harmony with those before and after them on the Cradle to Career pathway to success.

Sometimes A World-Class School Just Isn’t Enough

Who is responsible for our children’s education? Parents? Schools? Most would probably quickly agree that these parties are of paramount importance in insuring the education of future generations. However, what if businesses, faith-based groups, and non-profits were added to that list? What if there was community-wide shared responsibility for education?

Norcross high school is ranked 8th in Georgia.  It boasts numerous athletic state championships, and is an International Baccalaureate World School  — carrying a rigorous curriculum track that attracts students from other districts across Gwinnett County.   However, only 70% of NHS students graduated in 2012.

At first glance, many would be shocked at this reality. How does a school of this undeniable high academic quality produce a graduation rate barely above the state average (69.72% in 2012)?  In order to fairly answer that question, it helps go a few layers deeper into school data.

The Norcross cluster served just under 12,000 students in the 2011-2012 school year, of which 25% were classified as English learners and 72% as economically disadvantaged. The state averages for those classifications are 5% and 57%, respectively. This reveals a valuable insight: there are complexities impeding education that are rooted outside of the classroom.  Given the external factors in place, Norcross is truly doing a phenomenal job at educating our children.

Demographic trends show that these emerging complexities are only growing in scope.  So what is the solution?

You probably guessed it…that old “ it takes a village” cliché; except with a bit of a twist.  Granted, the parent and teacher have a bit different role than the town blacksmith, but the blacksmith should still have a great interest in the education of his future clientele.

Because a community is impacted by its schools (e.g., property values, attractiveness to employers, etc), it should take a vested interest in their performance.  As evidenced by the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati, OH, cross-sector community investment in education is proven to effect significant change in educational outcomes.  They have adopted a philosophy of varied accountability, but a fully shared responsibility.

Breakthrough Communities is GCO’s approach to taking the proverbial bull by the horns in the Norcross school cluster.  We believe that by establishing a community-wide common agenda, participating in mutually reinforcing activities, utilizing shared data measures, and implementing continuous improvement, we can see the systems of support changed for our students.

Imagine how student performance could be changed if after school programs, summer day camps, community based mentoring efforts, tutoring initiatives, and teachers were all watching the same numbers, and each one knew exactly how their efforts played an integral role in improving those numbers.

What if, through a collective alignment of efforts, the Norcross High graduation rate increased to 90%?  Don’t you think that the benefit of that change would impact more than the additional graduates and their families?  The represented cohort of 195 graduates would increase the gross state product by $3.1 million each year and spend an additional $215,000 each year exclusively on purchasing vehicles.

So, next time you read an article or hear a news report that is blasting poor school performance, stop and ask yourself two questions:  1) What is the rest of the story behind the alleged poor performance numbers?  2) How can you be a part of changing the future realities for students?