One size does fit all

One size does fit all by Richard W. Riley From Boston to the Mississippi Delta to Seattle, people across America are focused on education like never before. If you aren't engaging in dinner table conversation yourself about issues affecting students and schools, you have surely seen educational headlines during the recent elections or in your daily news.

But is there really one approach to better education that works in every town in America? Yes � increasing parent and community involvement.

Maybe you live in or know of a community where diverse groups are coming back together to look after the well-being of the students � a place where people take the extra time and energy to pull together because they believe the whole community has a stake in education. The key to building partnerships within a community to improve education is to bring together those who have something to provide, and show them how much they have to receive as well.

Opportunities to build creative partnerships are as diverse as America itself. Imagine a businesswoman inviting students in to her work to learn about careers in a hands-on way, or a grandparent tutoring a young child who needs help to read, or a college student mentoring a middle-schooler in algebra so he could be ready to take college prep courses in high school. Everyone is learning. And think of the related benefits of bringing a community together with a common purpose.

So why, then, isn't every community building these partnerships? Well, if you've ever tried working with others to do something in your area that hasn't been done before, you know the answer is often resources, resources, resources. Well, what if there were funds and support available for such partnerships?

There are. An unprecedented amount of support is now available � almost $600 million. There are many more opportunities from the U.S. Department of Education and through the Partnership for Family Involvement � to help strengthen or form partnerships where groups are working together to support better education. For example, through a new program called GEAR UP, community organizations, businesses, non-profits and parent associations can partner with colleges, universities and low-income middle and high schools to give students the academics, guidance and hope needed consistently and early-on so all students know that they, too, will be able to go on to college.

Colleges and K-12 schools are realizing the value of partnership. Visit many campuses and you will find America Reads tutors � college students who earn federal work-study money by tutoring elementary students in reading. Starting next fall, you will see them tutoring students in math from elementary school through ninth-grade � through America Counts. Similarly, there will be new resources available for schools that partner with community organizations, parents, teachers, and family literacy service providers to support literacy in early childhood and the early grade through the Reading Excellence Act.

In addition, community organizations and schools, working together, can apply for funds to provide students with a safe and enriching place to be during after-school-hours � through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. Nearly 300 communities have received grants so far.

Now is the time to learn about these and other opportunities, because grant competitions will soon be underway. Contact 1-800-USA-LEARN or visit www.ed.gov for more information on how you can receive support and publications for building partnerships to improve your schools and increase parental and community involvement in education.

I encourage caring people of all ages to form and strengthen partnerships that lift up our students, parents, teachers and schools.

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