A survey conducted in May 2020 by the Florida College Access Network begins to reveal some of the effects of COVID-19 on workforce and higher education. Most immediately relevant to Future Ready Collier, the pandemic is negatively impacting students’ post-high school plans. The data indicate that students already pursuing postsecondary education of some kind, and current or graduating high school students exploring their next steps, are being affected.
Only an hour from downtown Naples, but a world apart, Immokalee is home to Pathways Early Education Center. In operation for more than 56 years, Pathways ably serves its mission of creating educational opportunities for Immokalee’s youngest and most at-need children, with curricula for infant through pre-kindergarten. Pathways is newer to Future Ready Collier than some of their peers, joining in 2018 when Beth Hatch assumed leadership. Their eagerness to contribute has been manifest since day one.
In assessing how to strengthen our communities, collaboration is a frequently raised topic—most commonly relative to its current insufficiency. Local stakeholders may bemoan the lack of cohesiveness, overlapping or unclear missions, competition, and siloing that keeps ideas and action from collective generation. In Southwest Florida, Future Ready Collier is an example of collective action happening in real time, to real effect.
When you think of a community initiative centered primarily on education, your first guesses of likely partners may not include healthcare providers. However, engaging the medical community has been key to pursuing Future Ready Collier’s priorities. Healthcare Network, founded in Immokalee in 1977, today operates approximately 20 practices throughout Collier County, as well as two mobile units and telehealth. As a community health center, their scope encompasses pediatric through adult primary care, dental, women’s health, and integrated behavioral health—a collaborative form of care where medical providers and behavioral health providers work together to address physical mental and emotional needs. It is their ability to interact with families and children daily that underscores Healthcare Network’s contributions.
When Future Ready Collier was formalized, it was as a strategic offshoot of the Greater Naples Chamber’s Opportunity Naples initiative. This effort identified a need to assign resources to support students throughout their primary education. In the intervening years, the Chamber has retained a meaningful role in Future Ready Collier. Specifically, helping to steer conversations about work-based learning and facilitating transitions from school to career. Meaningfully, the Chamber’s board approved establishing a full-time staff position dedicated to exploring relevant partnerships with employers, and upholding schools in their efforts to deliver new meaningful work-related experiences for students.
On any given day during what we might now refer to as “normal” times, the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County would welcome 400 to 500 kids at their Immokalee facility, and 500 to 600 in Naples. The Collier County Boys & Girls Club, like its affiliates nationwide, provides an after-school and summer sanctuary for students. Programs encompass mentorship, academic learning, physical wellbeing, and personal development. The model embraced by the Boys & Girls Club is intended to provide essential supports for children who may for any reason lack access to that foundational structure in their personal and home lives. What’s more, it’s been shown to work.
If an objective of early childhood education is helping kids learn the value of sharing and partnership, then a collective impact model is a real-world extension of that ideological premise. As the nonprofit tasked with distributing state funds for early learning providers regionally, the Early Learning Coalition is an essential partner in fostering the collaboration and momentum that are carrying Future Ready Collier steadily towards real change. Links between early learning and school readiness, through to career training and a thriving economy, are undeniable. The Early Learning Coalition lends expertise and vital community-level connection points to the initiative.
Collier County County Public Schools (CCPS) is committed to supporting children and families in continuous learning. When the schools are closed for any reason, CCPS encourages parents and caregivers to have students engage in academic activities with a structured schedule. As such, the CCPS Curriculum and Instruction Division has developed lessons and resources to ensure learning is continuous.
A partner organization since Future Ready Collier’s founding, the Guadalupe Center has a 35-year history of, as their organizational mission decrees, using educational opportunity to help break the cycle of poverty for the children of Immokalee. Currently, Guadalupe is heavily involved in Future Ready Collier (FRC), intentionally encouraging and enabling their leadership and staff at all levels to support the initiative.