BALTIMORE, Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- At Baltimore's Academy of College and Career Exploration (ACCE), students are required to carry clear or mesh backpacks to school for security purposes. When Principal Quinhon Goodlowe saw freshman Brandon Thompson carrying a backpack emblazoned with the Peer Group Connection (PGC) logo, she knew something was wrong.
Developed by the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS), PGC is a peer mentoring model where older students are trained to support younger students as they transition into high school. PGC backpacks are reserved only for the juniors and seniors enrolled in the program as peer mentors, so Principal Goodlowe stopped Brandon to ask where it had come from. Brandon told her he had lost his old backpack and knew he would not be allowed into school without it. His PGC peer mentor, Kyle Maddox, had given him the PGC backpack until he could get a new one.
"I was incredibly moved by what Brandon told me," said Principal Goodlowe. "In this small gesture, Kyle showed that he cared about whether Brandon attended school. This is one of the most important reasons we brought PGC to ACCE – to show our incoming freshmen that all members of our school community are valued and that we all look out for each other. The culture of peer support that has been created by PGC has exceeded all of my expectations. I love PGC."
Because of its demonstrated success supporting and motivating traditionally underserved students to stay in school and prepare for their next step in life, CSS is one of 30 recipients nationwide that will share in nearly $12.5 million from AT&T.
The Baltimore program will receive $386,569 to support programming in nine schools in the city, including Academy for College and Career Exploration; Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women; Carver Vocational-Technical High School; Coppin Academy High School; Digital Harbor High School; Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School; Paul Laurence Dunbar High School; Patterson High School; and Reginald F. Lewis High School of Business & Law. All told, CSS received $966,423 for programs in Baltimore and New York City.
These contributions are a part of AT&T Aspire, the company's signature education initiative focused on school success and career readiness. With an unwavering commitment to data-driven education outcomes, AT&T Aspire has impacted more than one million students since its launch in 2008.
"Education has been a priority for AT&T for more than a century. We believe that when we invest in education, we are making our communities stronger, safer and more economically viable," said J. Michael Schweder, president, AT&T Mid-Atlantic. "When we join forces with leaders like Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Dr. Thornton, and organizations like CSS, we can make major difference in the lives of children in the City of Baltimore. Congratulations to CSS for receiving this very competitive award."
Schweder added that, as part of AT&T Aspire, 100 students from Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, Digital Harbor High School and Ben Franklin High School, on November 21 will visit AT&T's corporate offices in Hanover for an Aspire Mentoring Academy event, a work-based career exploration program where students will have the opportunity to learn about various careers within the company and the telecommunications industry, and practice workplace readiness skills with AT&T employees. The event was organized in cooperation with Junior Achievement.
"Since day one, my administration has been developing ways to enhance the learning experience for Baltimore City youth. While we want to encourage our youth to pursue higher education after graduating high school, we must do all we can to make sure they are ready to enter the workforce, as well," said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. "That's why programs like those offered by the Center for Supportive Schools are so important. I applaud them for the efforts to create brighter futures for our children, and I appreciate AT&T's efforts to help advance this goal."
Baltimore City Schools CEO, Dr. Gregory Thornton, added: "Preparing our students for success in higher education and their careers depends on the active engagement of everyone in the community – including our business partners. AT&T's generous support for the Center for Supportive Schools is a great example of how we can all work together for the benefit of our students."
Through a competitive request for proposal process, 30 schools, school districts and non-profits, including CSS, were selected from more than 1,100 nationwide. Programs were evaluated based on their effectiveness in helping students graduate ready for career or college. Selected programs use evidence-based approaches to serve students and are able to demonstrate quantitative results.
A component of AT&T's collaboration with CSS supports student mentoring. Research has shown that a caring adult in a young person's life impacts their success. According to a recent report, students with mentors are more likely to aspire to enroll in and graduate from college than those without mentors (76 percent vs. 56 percent).
"CSS helps schools reimagine what it means to be a student," said Daniel Oscar, president and CEO of CSS. "Through our solutions, students are trained and mobilized as leaders who form genuine partnerships with administrators and faculty to create more vibrant learning communities where all students feel safe, supported, engaged, and inspired. Robust evaluation studies, including randomized control trials, prove that our work results in significantly greater numbers of students graduating high school with the academic, social, and emotional skills they need to succeed in college."
AT&T Aspire funding recipients include non-profits, schools and school districts around the country that will expand programs to serve additional students, to add components to strengthen the program, or to replicate in new locations. Many of the awardees deliver integrated student supports, focus on college or career preparation, and/or provide mentoring or peer-to-peer supports to help students succeed in academics and beyond.
Through the AT&T Aspire initiative, CSS will equip schools in high-need communities across Baltimore, MD and New York City, NY to improve educational outcomes for students by supporting their transition into high school using an evidence-based peer mentoring approach known as Peer Group Connection (PGC). PGC works by training older students (11th and 12th graders) in a high school to provide structured, ongoing peer support to incoming students (9th graders) through weekly group mentoring sessions.
In PGC, selected juniors and/or seniors are trained as part of their regular school schedule in a daily, 45-minute leadership development class to become peer leaders for 9th graders. These peer leaders work in pairs to co-lead small groups of ninth graders in outreach sessions in which the younger students participate in engaging, hands-on activities. Peer leaders also organize and facilitate family events for 9th grade students and caretakers.
"To be one of the first Peer Leaders was a wonderful experience. To really know that we had people that looked up to us was amazing. To be able to connect with other peer leaders was remarkable. We got to know others for who they are. The moments we shared like a family were beautiful. I am grateful to have been a part of the first peer leaders of Carver High School," said Chanezz, PGC Peer Leader, Carver High School in Baltimore.
"I continue to be humbled by the capacity of my peer leaders to care for each other and embrace the role of leader. In the short time since we started, I have seen them become more interested, excited and engaged in PGC and in school overall. They have taken ownership and responsibility for PGC because they recognize the need that all students have for the kind of support PGC provides," Tonia Allen-Franklin, PGC Program Advisor, Coppin Academy High School.
About Philanthropy at AT&T
AT&T Inc. is committed to advancing education, strengthening communities and improving lives. Through its community initiatives, AT&T has a long history of investing in projects that create learning opportunities; promote academic and economic achievement; or address community needs. In 2013, more than $130 million was contributed or directed through corporate-, employee-, social investment- and AT&T Foundation-giving programs. AT&T Aspire is AT&T's signature education initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on the issue including funding, technology, employee volunteerism, and mentoring.