United for Schools: New project already producing results

Picture this: Quad Cities schools, United Way, students, teachers, parents and the community as whole locked arm in arm, with the goal to ensure all students achieve success in school and in life. That’s exactly the focus of our United for Schools initiative, which is all about making sure more students are on track to graduate from high school ready for college or career.

Never heard of United for Schools? That’s because — up ’til now — it’s been in its initial one-year pilot phase. But after over a year of mobilizing the community to accelerate student achievement and develop purposeful future leaders, we are ready to share some Good News on the programs impact — all thanks to generous United Way QC supporters like you.

From Background to Foreground

So, what is United for Schools? The short answer is, it’s a community school partnership to meet the needs of underserved elementary school students and their families, with the support of volunteers, businesses and close relationships with school administrators and teachers. Since we started United for Schools in 2022, we have doubled our reach from one school in Davenport, to a second school in Moline. And based on the success and feedback we’ve received, we plan to scale this initiative to serve even more students at local elementary schools and their families over the next three years.

Capture the Moment: The First Day

student getting high fives from volunteersTo best explain why interventions like United for School are critical to ensure more kids are on track, let’s scroll back in our camera roll to the first day of school here in the QC. Walking into school on the first day of second grade can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Imagine being greeted with high-fives by caring adults from your support system — the familiar face who coaches your after-school basketball league, the barber who gave you free haircuts and mentored you monthly last school year, your favorite teacher and your neighborhood grocer as you strolled down the red carpet. Now that’s a grand entrance.

But let’s face it. Too many kids start the school year without the resources and confidence they need to succeed. When you don’t have a coat that fits, you’re less likely to come to school. When you struggle to read the white board because you don’t have glasses that fit, you’re going to struggle with your grades. We are all about bringing together friends and partners to drive real solutions. And that’s exactly what we do with United for Schools.

And just this August, when kids went back to school on their first day, we brought out all of partners from around the community to help to cheer on our grade school students — 746 in total, served by our United for Schools initiative.

Our first day of school kickoffs at Madison Elementary in Davenport and Washington Elementary in Moline helped set the tone for the school year, one filled with excitement, support and readiness to achieve goals in reading, math, and science.

But that’s just the beginning. Our youngest have the biggest potential. That’s why we focus on the root cause of our school’s toughest issues — to ensure kids are going to school, have positive learning experiences and are reading at grade level by third grade. Through our United for Schools initiative, we are tackling tough issues as a community so all students can be successful.

Sharpening our Focus

young girl trying on new glassesJust this month, United Way collaborated on an opportunity to address the fact that only 56% of third graders in our region read proficiently, according to our Quad Cities Educational Data Exchange. Because of investors and donors, we launched our Vision to Learn program to provide vision screenings to 339 students at Madison Elementary. We provided glasses to all 91 of those students who needed them — one pair to keep at school and one pair to take home. The looks on their faces when the “lights came on” were priceless. Among the smiles you could hear the students exclaiming “wow!” “it’s so bright!” and “I didn’t know colors looked like this” as they admired their new look in the mirror. All possible because of the support of donors like you who dedicated their time and resources to these two schools in the past year.

A Snapshot into the Future

In collaboration with our United for Schools partner schools, we continue to support students, families and schools so that all kids succeed in school and beyond. We’re encouraged by the fact that students are beginning to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic when it comes to attendance, as chronic absenteeism declined by 9% at partner schools in the past year (Davenport Community & Moline-Coal Valley School Districts, 2023). Amongst the bright spots, students at partner schools continue to face challenges:

  • 1 in 5 students start their education without the skills they need to be successful in kindergarten (Davenport Community & Moline-Coal Valley School Districts, 2023).
  • Only 44% of third graders are reading proficiently, 13% below the regional average (QCEDX, 2023).
  • Only 32% of fourth graders are proficient in math, almost half of the regional average of 61% (QCEDX, 2023).

We won’t stop until we fix these persistent issues facing our kids, made worse by the pandemic’s disruption to learning. That’s why we’re helping build strong educational foundations daily.

At United Way Quad Cities, we cannot move the needle on these benchmarks alone. Together, we can continue to make strides to put opportunity in the hands of everyone in the Quad Cities. Because of your dedication to our community, we are on a mission to improve the lives of even more than the 746 students and 192 families who were impacted last year as we expand the United for Schools model to include more schools, continue to track data and outcomes, and implement solutions that transform the lives of underserved students in our community.

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