Large grant given to Tacoma Public Schools builds character

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Thanks to an initiative for program quality, Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) received a significant grant from the Wallace Foundation and, as a result, will be working with the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF) to expand programs for children in grades K-5. The new offerings will extend beyond the children’s typical school day and will leak into their after school hours.

According to a Wallace-commissioned study from the University of Chicago, Foundations for Young Adult Success, a report that helped inspire this grant, students who master soft skills have better success in school, career and life. The grant given to Tacoma is designed to offer marketable skills to young children where they can learn character traits like self-control, persistence, teamwork and goal setting.

In addition to money, the grant will also provide TPS with membership in a professional learning community, regular meetings with other initiative members, access to a continuous improvement system, communications counsel and technical assistance.

The Wallace Foundation has years of experience working in youth development, including one 12-year effort to encourage citywide coordination for after school activities. The Wallace Foundation has yielded more than 40 publications. The affiliated study by RAND found that “organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision making and sustainability.”

In a recent press release about the grant, the school district said: “It is not yet known how school and after-school experiences can be strengthened, aligned and delivered in real-world, urban settings to help children develop these skills.” Yet the new initiative will explore how this cross-sector alignment may benefit children in participating communities and Tacoma’s program will be part of a much larger program called the Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning Initiative.

At the same time as Tacoma launches its pilot program and measures it for success, the RAND Corporation will conduct independent research with the goal of understanding how the grant benefits children – and that study will also evaluate what it takes to generate those types of academic benefits – as well as determine whatever barriers might be in the way of the children’s character development learning.

Carla Santorno, superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools, said, “In 2012, our school board made a bold decision to make social emotional learning a priority for our district through the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative – a 10-year partnership with the University of Washington Tacoma. Through that initiative, we have built a solid foundation in our city to ensure children are safe, healthy, supported, engaged and challenged in school. This grant will help us join with more partners to expand, accelerate and deepen our city-wide work to ensure that we educate the whole child not just while they’re in school but throughout their daily lives at home and in the community. We are thrilled to further align with our partners and learn with our colleagues from around the nation thanks to the foresight and funding from The Wallace Foundation.”

According to Gina Anstey, vice president of programs and initiatives at GTCF, “This opportunity comes after six years of engaging with Pierce County youth providers on the Program Quality Initiative, which helped establish shared goals and standards for participating youth after-school programs.” Anstey said GTCF will continue to foster community impact through collaborative relationships as this pilot program is built

“We’re very excited to announce the selection of the implementation grantee pairs, all of which worked incredibly hard during the planning phase,” said Gigi Antoni, the director of learning and enrichment at The Wallace Foundation. “These entities have demonstrated the potential to work collaboratively and have created thoughtful, strategic plans intended to achieve real benefits for students. We’re looking forward to following their efforts and to sharing what we learn with educators and after-school providers nationwide.”

During the planning-grant period, which began last fall, Tacoma Public Schools and GTCF, in collaboration with School’s Out Washington, Foundation for Tacoma Students, and the University of Washington-Tacoma, developed a plan to test and learn how to implement social emotional learning in their communities.

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