As access to skilled workers becomes increasingly vital to the U.S. economy, AT&T has launched a quarter-billion-dollar campaign to help more students graduate from high school ready for careers and college, and to ensure the country is better prepared to meet global competition.
In recent months, AT&T has encouraged Kansas organizations to submit applications for funding through the Local High School Impact Initiative Requests for Proposals (RFPs). AT&T is most interested in funding local programs that have strong, evidence-based practices grounded in the What Works Clearinghouse Dropout Prevention: A Practice Guide and data-driven outcomes demonstrated to improve high school graduation rates.
“It will take all of us working together and supporting the hard work of the education community to continue to improve graduation rates and preparedness for careers and college,” AT&T Kansas President Steve Hahn said. “American business has an enormous stake in the success of our students. It’s time to commit more innovation and resources to the task.”
According to a March 19, 2012, report by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, Kansas has seen a 3.1 percentage increase in 2009 graduation rates, compared with data from 2002. The latest round of AT&T Aspire, already among the most significant U.S. corporate educational initiatives with more than $100 million invested since 2008, is designed to help improve those outcomes even more.
AT&T Aspire will tackle high school success and college/career readiness for students at-risk of dropping out of high school through a much larger, “socially innovative” approach. Social innovation goes beyond traditional philanthropy – which typically involves only charitable giving – to also engage people and technology to bring different approaches, new solutions and added resources to challenging social problems. The Aspire effort already has impacted more than one million U.S. high school students, helping them prepare for success in the workplace and college.
The greatly expanded effort centers on a new, $250 million financial commitment planned over 5 years. AT&T Aspire will build on that commitment by using technology to connect with students in new and more effective ways, such as with interactive gamification, Web-based content and social media. The company will also tap the innovation engine of the AT&T Foundry to look for fresh or atypical approaches to educational obstacles. Finally, AT&T Aspire will capitalize on the power of personal connections in the form of mentoring, internships and other voluntary efforts that involve many of AT&T’s approximately 260,000 employees.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said the AT&T Aspire program supports one of his top priorities for the state.
“One of the key goals of the Roadmap for Kansas is increasing the percentage of high school graduates who are college- or career-ready,” Brownback said. “The way we communicate and conduct commerce has changed dramatically in just the past few years. We have to continually adjust the way we educate or we’ll be left behind. AT&T, through its Aspire program, clearly recognizes this. A trained workforce – one that can operate and adapt quickly to rapid changes in technology – is one of the most important things in which our state and the private sector can invest.”
The new and expanded AT&T commitment builds on the work AT&T Aspire has completed in the last four years. AT&T and the AT&T Foundation have invested more than $100 million in Aspire since 2008 – and more than $923 million since 1984 in education. In Kansas, the AT&T Aspire investment has amounted to $411,628 since 2008.
The Erie School District was the largest single recipient in Kansas under the previous round of Aspire funding. The district used a 5-year, $200,000 project support grant to help build a “Student Generative Curriculum” that allows students to choose the content area of their own interests and allows a “Personalized Learning Program” advisor to build a curriculum around that area of interest.
"Personalized learning puts the students at the center of the learning process,” said Dr. John Wyrick, superintendent of Erie Public Schools. “The AT&T Aspire program has enabled our staff to work with high school students and their families on a personal basis, to connect our educational expectations with students' passions and interests as learners in a Personalized Learning Program."
Wyrick added that personalized learning encourages students to be risk-takers, leaders and to “take responsibility” for their own learning. “The students in our program practice their skills through first-hand involvement in the community,” Wyrick said. “As a result, our students have used their new-found skills to stay in school, graduate and further their educations." Wyrick added that students and faculty from schools around the state have visited Erie to study the program and "learn how to provide a model which allows their students to be responsible for creating their own learning."
Taylor Cole, a 2012 Erie High School graduate, said he had trouble maintaining interest and a desire to learn in the traditional classroom. Aspire's personalized approach to learning helped him flourish academically and as a young leader. He had an internship at a local bank, and was placed in charge of the high school's audio-visual department, including broadcasting school sporting events. He ended his final year as senior class president and spoke at the high school graduation.
"I don't think I would have had these experiences and accomplishments without the change to personalized learning," Cole said.