1984, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Caught in one of the city’s epic snow storms, I stood in front of my sister’s empty home, seeking entry. After 30 frigid minutes twisting, jamming (and finally striking) my key into the lock, I was denied entry; unbeknownst to me, my sister had changed her locks. Two hours later, I arrived at my warm home, having learned a critical life lesson. Keys are only as good as the locks for which they are intended.
At the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, we often use the phrase, “Education unlocks the doors of opportunity.” This belief is commonly shared, as America’s dominant message has always been that, with the right amount of effort, intelligence and skills, any child should be able to climb the economic ladder, regardless of his or her background. Yet for more than 25 million children in the U.S. born to low-income and less-educated parents, access to opportunity is becoming less and less attainable. Instead, parental wealth and education have become greater predictors for economic success than hard work or talent.
If we agree that our educational institutions shape the “keys” to opportunity for students, I believe philanthropy has a responsibility to ensure that the locks for those keys remain in working order.
Philanthropy has long supported programs aimed at improving educational outcomes. In fact, the Southeastern Council on Foundations reports that in 2016, $384 million in private funding was earmarked to education in Georgia. For example, at the Community Foundation we manage more than 25 scholarship programs sponsored by generous donors; participate in education policy action coalitions; and award grants to effective youth development organizations. These investments have helped to test, expand and deepen innovative and proven strategies to accelerate and stabilize learning, and increasingly supported capacity building, evaluation and leadership development for educational organizations and staff.
However, increasing educational achievement for metro Atlanta’s children who are being locked out – 60% of whom are not reading on grade level by third grade and 73% of whom will not attain post-secondary credentials after graduation – will require much more than money. Fueling their success will require active, sustained partnerships between philanthropy, social/civic organizations, business and our public and private educational systems.
This is why the Community Foundation is a proud partner of Learn4Life, an ambitious effort to mobilize civic action to ensure that all children are accessing quality education. Working with eight superintendents of metro Atlanta school systems and committed leaders representing diverse sectors, L4L facilitates agreement on shared priorities, lifts promising and proven practices and engages in active learning and discovery.
Philanthropy has a unique ability to keep its eye on all of the interconnected systems and players that impact achievement and ensure equitable access for all students. Through partnerships such as Learn4Life, there is no higher calling than to ensure that the keys we provide our students will indeed unlock the doors to opportunity they deserve.
For more information about the Community Foundation’s investments in education, visit here.
Lesley Grady is the Senior Vice President, Community at Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta.