In its capacity as a collective impact network, Future Ready Collier (FRC) commits to regularly hosting meetings of its three Goal Groups. Quarterly, Goal Groups convene to discuss Future Ready Collier’s three primary priority areas: Early Development, School Success, and College and Career Success. On May 5 and 6, generously hosted by the Salvation Army of Collier County and Lorenzo Walker Technical College, over 100 FRC members came together for deep conversation, information-sharing, and proactive dialogue about ongoing efforts. These meetings represented the last of this school year for FRC, and Goal Groups discussed how initiatives will be maintained in the summer and carried forward into the next school year.
Early Development Goal Group
There are important areas of focus specific to Early Development. For example, there is strong interest in ensuring that developmental screenings, which are increasing in frequency, are supported by appropriate follow-through. This is critical for many reasons, among them pandemic-driven trends showing that young children are struggling emotionally, with more social-emotional deficits than before COVID’s onset. The pandemic has also been identified as a likely driver of changes in kindergarten enrollment since 2020. Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) has actively been promoting the use of their free, online registration system. In fact, CCPS has a team devoted to encouraging early registration, well before the start of the school year, and helping families navigate the system. Troublingly, there have been examples locally of people offering to help parents with online school registration in exchange for payment. CCPS is working hard, and asked for the community’s help, to prevent this predatory practice. For any parent needing registration assistance, CCPS will do so for free.
Continuing topics of conversation also include availability of early childhood learning centers and open seats at those centers, and literacy-related programs. Nationwide, it has been established that the pandemic has been extremely disruptive to early learning, with centers closing and those that are open having difficulty with staffing. The Goal Group would like to establish processes for centers to help each other through mentoring. With respect to literacy supports, there are known resources in the community, such as toolkits offered through both FRC and CCPS, and external partners like Room to Read. However, Goal Group members emphasize that this information needs to be regularly updated, more inclusive of all early development ages, and more efficiently communicated to families.
School Success Goal Group
Some of the same themes are evident in School Success discussions. This is the newest of FRC’s established Goal Groups, and is still confirming its specific priority areas and the best ways the larger committee as well as its targeted subcommittees can allocate their time and resources. The School Success Goal Group was a natural evolution of FRC’s evolution, understanding that children need to be fully supported throughout their educational experience, which includes learning inside and out of the classroom. Many members of this group represent out-of-school-time and related social services organizations, which offer programming for students that is more experiential, but complements their academic goals and development.
A point of interest for the group is determining which data are best to collect, and how to ensure that those data points are as distinct as possible. For example, if one trend that the group agrees is relevant to follow is middle school suspensions, it should be clear what reasons are contributing to those suspensions, e.g., academic, behavioral. As with the younger students, social-emotional learning and mental wellness need to be priority considerations, factoring in the various stresses that naturally accompany this stage of life with the external pressures of having been in pandemic conditions for over two years. There is agreement that the community is rich with terrific organizations providing much-needed services, but consistent feedback underscores the need to better consolidate and communicate information about available programs to families. Moreover, families may need support in accessing those programs, such as with transportation. The Goal Group intends to put effort into ensuring all appropriate community partners are included in the conversation, such as the Collier County Public Library, which has abundant resources and tools that perhaps many students and families don’t know about.
College and Career Success Goal Group
Not surprisingly, when the College and Career Success Goal Group convened, there were again overlapping issues to address. As one of FRC’s longstanding objectives has been to collect and share data that lead to action in the community, it is imperative that those data points be accurate and clearly understandable. This is sometimes challenged by the reality that data come from different sources, are tracked at different times of the school year, and may even lag considerably depending on the metric. With that said, this group remains committed to making the most possible use of information related to its aims.
A number everyone always wants to know is the current, year-to-date rate of FAFSA completion. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the online form students fill out to receive financial aid for post-high school education of any kind in the following school year. High school seniors and students considering or planning to attend any sort of postsecondary school during the following year is strongly encouraged to submit their FAFSA. During the pandemic, FAFSA completion rates dropped considerably. As of the Goal Group meeting, Collier County sat at 36.8%, which is approximately three percentage points down year-over-year. Our neighboring counties are struggling even more. A bright spot, which CCPS and all interested parties are hoping to replicate, is Lely High School, which has shown an approximately 11.5% in-school increase from last year to this year. This demonstrates that, with the right help and information, FAFSA rates can dramatically improve, to students’ benefit.
There is strong interest in helping students get access to meaningful work-based learning experiences while in high school, to help them both think about potential career goals and to gain appropriate professional skills, especially related to ‘soft skills’ that help workers succeed in team settings. Collaborations among community partners and businesses are key to creating these opportunities. Subsequently, when students do move on from high school to their next educational step, the FRC network is focused on helping them complete their degree. This includes helping nontraditional students and adult learnings overcome barriers related to, for example, family or work obligations. The unifying theme is to create systems that empower students to progress efficiently and efficiently, to receive the degree and the skills to thrive in the workplace.
Get Involved with Future Ready Collier
Future Ready Collier is a volunteer-based membership network and invites any individual or organization interested in the work to consider getting involved. Goal Groups meet approximately quarterly, and subcommittees focused on specific priority areas keep the conversations going in between the larger meetings. All the work is done around FRC’s identity as a collective impact network, and the work is collaboratively undertaken to, with time and energy, improve the educational experience for all students in Collier County. A strong academic foundation, with exposure to positive learning from birth, is correlated with future successes in career and life. Future Ready Collier’s work benefits its students and families first, and also very much its members and its larger community. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prepared by Caroline Ridgway of C1B1 Communications.