Closing the Achievement Gap in Montgomery County

The Children’s Opportunity Fund champions and supports strategic investments to improve the lives of low-income children and families in Montgomery County. The Fund was launched jointly by the Montgomery County Government and Montgomery County Public Schools to identify priority areas for investment based on unmet need and to help align resources toward effective multi-sector collaborations serving the County’s most vulnerable youth and their families. In July 2017, the Fund made its inaugural grants which were leveraged against matching dollars to launch and expand innovative, evidence-informed programs throughout the county. We are pleased to report that the Fund recently made another $623,000 in grants to these high-impact organizations to further support their vital work:

Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) works to create high-quality learning opportunities for the children who need them most, mobilizing schools and communities to expand learning time beyond the traditional school day and school year. The 2017 grant from the Children’s Opportunity Fund supported BELL’s Summer program which provided educational services to 1,134 rising 3-5th graders. For six and one-half hours per day, five days a week, the program blended academics with nutrition, enrichment, and mentorship at no cost to lower income families. The result was an increase in the average scholar’s literacy by 1.5 months and math skills by 3 months, increased self-confidence for 98% of scholars, and improved scholar attitudes about school which led to a 93% average daily attendance rate. Read about Bell’s efforts to prevent the ‘summer slide’ in an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun.

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I have been inspired by Montgomery County’s commitment to equity in education. Families and MCPS educators have advocated for increasing access to the BELL Summer program with evidence-based instruction and engaging resources to accelerate scholars’ learning year-round. The Children Opportunity Fund’s visionary investment in BELL Summer has helped us double this collective impact in summer 2018 and serve 2,100 young people across 11 Title I MCPS schools!
— Damon Johnson, Vice President, Partner Impact, BELL

Family Service’s Thriving Germantown Collaboration. As Germantown has grown and become more diverse, so has the rate of increased poverty (16% versus 6% countywide) and the economic, health, and educational disparities for the most vulnerable residents. Over 20 community nonprofit partners established a five-year collective impact initiative, Thriving Germantown Community HUB, designed to help Germantown families connect to health care, early child care, adult education, employment, and more. Family Services, Inc. was selected to provide leadership for this multi-sector, multi-generational care coordination initiative to improve student/family health and wellness outcomes, achieve academic success, and ensure that children have safe, stable and nurturing environments in which to live. A grant from the Children’s Opportunity Fund supported the coordination of work around early childhood care and education. In its first year, Thriving Germantown provided 99 comprehensive family risk assessments and facilitated referrals and linkages to appropriate resources and services for 131 children, adults and families. Read more about the school and leaders behind the Thriving Germantown collaboration in Bethesda Magazine’s 2017 December cover story, “Hope Lives Here.”

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Partnerships are at the heart of Thriving Germantown – with families from the Daly School community, school staff, and over a dozen community health and social services organizations. The investments from COF are particularly helpful in supporting our early care and academic related service coordination. We’re excited to include as goals for the new year deepening our reach into the community, enhancing data sharing and collaboration with our partners, and developing a permanent shared nonprofit services facility for the Germantown community.
— Kylie McCleaf, CEO Family Services, Inc.

Urban Alliance is committed to helping underserved youth gain the experience, support, and training necessary to compete in the labor market and embark on a pathway to self-sufficiency. With the grant from the Children’s Opportunity Fund, Urban Alliance expanded its High School Internship Program into Montgomery County to provide career preparation and internships to high school seniors in the East County area. Through the program, students had the opportunity to gain significant professional development training, one-on-one mentoring from adult professionals, and paid, real-world work experience. The program placed 30 interns at worksites around the county, with a 100% retention rate – all youth who began the program in the fall are still actively enrolled. While their post high school plans are still in progress, all Montgomery interns have applied to college, all have been accepted to at least one institution, and all have completed a resume.

 
Anna Hargrave, Executive Director of the Community Foundation in Montgomery County, poses with Urban Alliance Scholars.

Anna Hargrave, Executive Director of the Community Foundation in Montgomery County, poses with Urban Alliance Scholars.

 
“The Children’s Opportunity Fund is making it possible for Urban Alliance to provide even more young people in Montgomery County with early, meaningful work experience and professional development to help them succeed in adulthood. We’re so grateful to the Greater Washington Community Foundation for their dedication to improving outcomes for underserved youth by helping us to sustain and grow our program here in the county.”
— Eshauna Smith, CEO of Urban Alliance

The Children’s Opportunity Fund Announces Initial Grants in Montgomery County

July 17, 2017 -- The Greater Washington Community Foundation has announced the Children’s Opportunity Fund’s (COF) first grants of $625,000 to three high-impact nonprofit organizations in Montgomery County, Maryland.  All three groups provide life-changing educational opportunities for low-income children and reflect the COF’s innovative and systemic approach to closing the opportunity gap for children and youth in Montgomery County.  These first three grants include nearly $625,000 in public funding and will leverage an additional $625,000 in private matching funds, totaling a $1.25 million investment. 

Children’s Opportunity Fund Grants June 2017

The Children’s Opportunity Fund's initial grants will serve over 1,200 students in the following ways:

Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) works to create high-quality learning opportunities for the children who need them most, so that they, too, can develop the skills, interests, and determination to excel.  BELL builds educational equality by mobilizing schools and communities and expanding learning time beyond the traditional school day and school year.  BELL exists to transform the academic achievements, self-confidence, and life trajectories of children living in under-resourced communities. The grant from COF will support educational services to students currently attending Montgomery County Public Schools Summer Program in partnership with the Norman R. and Ruth Rales Foundation, Montgomery County Government and MCPS.

The Urban Alliance Foundation, Inc. partners with businesses to empower under-resourced youth to aspire, work, and succeed through paid internships, formal training, and mentorship. The grant from COF will expand the Urban Alliance High School Internship Program into Montgomery County by providing career preparation and internships to low-income high school students in the east county area.

Family Services, Inc. (FSI) provides high-quality services for newborns to adults to foster health and well-being in the home, school, and community.  FSI currently serves over 27,000 of the most vulnerable residents through more than 36 programs throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. The grant announced today supports the coordination of work around early childhood care and education for participants of the newly formed Thriving Germantown Collaboration.

Although Montgomery County is the 11th richest county in the United States, most people are shocked to discover that over 200,000 people are living below self-sufficiency levels and over a third of MCPS students quality for free and reduced meals  — widening the opportunity gap for children and families.  The latest U.S. Census data show 12 census tracts with poverty rates of 18 percent or more.

The Children’s Opportunity Fund is working to close the opportunity gap for children and their families; address the need for integration among health, education, and social investments for vulnerable children; and diminish the disparity in educational achievement between children from wealthy and low-income families.

About the Children’s Opportunity Fund

The Children’s Opportunity Fund (COF) is a component fund of the Greater Washington Community Foundation (The Community Foundation) and its local office in Montgomery County. Funded jointly by the government of Montgomery County, Maryland, and Montgomery County Public Schools to leverage public funds to attract private investment, COF champions, plans and funds strategic investments that improve the lives of low-income children and families in the county. With a focus on innovative, evidence-informed efforts targeted at closing the opportunity gap, COF identifies priority areas for investment based on unmet need, aligns resources toward effective multi-sector collaborations serving the county’s most vulnerable youth and their families, and seeks new funding sources.

COF is guided by and works closely with a Policy Leadership Group and Steering Committee representing leaders from government, philanthropy, business and the community. These leaders include:

 Children’s Opportunity Fund Policy Leadership Group

  • Ike Leggett, County Executive, Montgomery County
  • Nancy Navarro, Councilmember, Montgomery County Council
  • Patricia O' Neill, Member, Montgomery County Board of Education
  • Jack Smith, Superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools

 Children’s Opportunity Fund Steering Committee

  • Uma Ahluwalia, Director, Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services
  • Gabriel Albornoz, Director, Montgomery County Department of Recreation
  • David Asai, Senior Director of Science Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Kevin Beverly, President and CEO, Social and Scientific Systems
  • Parker Hamilton, Director, Montgomery County Public Libraries
  • Anna Hargrave, Executive Director, Montgomery County, Greater Washington Community Foundation
  • Julian Haynes, Program Officer, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation
  • April Kaplan, Executive Director, Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families
  • Agnes Leshner, Board Member, Montgomery's Kids
  • Maria Navarro, Chief Academic Officer, Montgomery County Public Schools
  • David Petr, President/CEO, Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation

For more information on the Children’s Opportunity Fund, click here.

 

Contact:

Mala B. Thakur

Executive Director, Children's Opportunity Fund

Greater Washington Community Foundation

mthakur@thecommunityfoundation.org

Montgomery’s Children’s Opportunity Fund initiated by Councilmember Navarro selects leadership team and creates new partnership

New executive director, Community Foundation representatives and steering committee establish strategic framework to help children and families

ROCKVILLE, Md., Sept. 29, 2016—Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro today applauded the progress made by community partners and public policy leaders to create the professional structure needed to fully implement the mission of the Children’s Opportunity Fund (COF) in the County. Mala B. Thakur began work as executive director on June 27; a key partnership has been established with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region; and new members have been appointed to the COF Steering Committee.

The overarching goal of the COF is to champion, plan and fund strategic investments that improve the lives of children and families in the County with a focus on innovative, evidence-based efforts targeted at closing the opportunity gap.

In 2014, Councilmember Navarro created the Children’s Opportunity Fund as a mechanism to ensure a long-term, strategic approach and a dedicated funding stream for early childhood education and interventions aimed at closing the achievement gap. In Fiscal Year 2016, at Councilmember Navarro’s request, County Executive Ike Leggett earmarked $250,000 in the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget and the Council approved it as part of the budget process. Montgomery County Public Schools also provided $125,000. Funding for the COF was increased to $375,000 in FY17.

In addition to support from the County, private funds are necessary to meet the long-term goals of the COF and the growing need for services. The COF leadership team will seek private funding to support the fund and leverage County resources.

“I am delighted with the progress that has been made so far and excited about the new leadership that will guide the operations of the COF because there is much work we need to do on behalf of our County’s children,” said Councilmember Navarro, who chairs the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee and is a member of its Education Committee. “Partnering with the Community Foundation, having Ms. Thakur as executive director of the COF and convening a talented steering committee will enable us to grow this initiative so that all of our children will have the opportunity to thrive.”

“This is an important initiative and I fully support it,” said County Executive Leggett.  “I look forward to the progress we make as a community in closing the achievement gap.”

Ms. Thakur said she plans to focus on the COF’s three goals: identifying priority areas for investment based on unmet need; aligning resources toward effective inter-agency collaborations serving the County’s most vulnerable youth and their families; and seeking new funding sources for innovative evidence-based efforts targeting interventions that help to close the achievement gap.

Ms. Thakur has spent her career building coalitions, developing policies and identifying practices that support comprehensive approaches to closing the achievement gap and expanding opportunities for underserved populations. Before joining the COF, Ms. Thakur served in a number of leadership roles including as executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition, as director of workforce development at the New York Citywide School to Work Alliance and as director of public policy at the National Puerto Rican Forum. She also serves on the board of directors for the National Human Services Assembly and the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy.

“I salute Councilmember Nancy Navarro for her vision in creating the Children’s Opportunity Fund,” said Montgomery County Board of Education President Michael Durso. “As we work with our communities and partners to address the persistent achievement gap in our classrooms, institutions like the Children’s Opportunity Fund will be crucial in reaching across traditional walls that separate partners and resources to provide the appropriate supports to meet our children’s needs. The Board of Education looks forward to working with the Children’s opportunity Fund’s Executive Director Mala B. Thakur and other key stakeholders to design and implement strategic initiatives that provide a nurturing and equitable space for all children in our classrooms.”

“Narrowing the opportunity gap is critical work, and we look forward to working with Ms. Thakur to ensure that our children receive necessary supports and resources so that they can flourish in their academic pursuits,” said Jack R. Smith, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools. “The Children’s Opportunity Fund will provide valuable interventions for the children who need it most. We very much look forward to this new partnership.”

In May, the COF established a strategic partnership with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, which “works to ensure access and opportunity for all residents in the Washington metropolitan area.” Known as the “hub of philanthropy,” the mission of the organization is to strengthen the region by supporting charitable giving and by providing effective leadership on critical community issues.

“We know that low-income youth do not have the same access to supports and opportunities to succeed as their more affluent peers do. The Children’s Opportunity Fund is critical to addressing this problem in Montgomery County,” said Bruce McNamer, president and chief executive officer of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. “The Community Foundation brings together different sectors and community entities to solve problems, and this fund is a shining example of that. All of us must be engaged in the effort to close the achievement gap. Our young people are depending on us.”

The COF also has expanded its steering committee, which oversees operations. The committee includes key community leaders in philanthropy, business, health and children and youth experts. These steering committee includes:

  • Uma Ahluwalia, director, Department of Health and Human Services

  • Maria Navarro, chief academic officer, Montgomery County Public Schools

  • Anna Hargrave, executive director, Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in Montgomery County

  • April Kaplan, executive director, Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families

  • Gabriel Albornoz, director, Department of Recreation

  • Kevin Beverly, president and CEO, Social and Scientific Systems

  • Agnes Leshner, board member, Montgomery’s Kids

  • David Asai, senior director of science education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Through the COF, Councilmember Navarro was able to create a partnership with the Norman R. and Ruth Rales Foundation to help the County fund the Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) summer program, which focuses on closing the achievement gap. The Rales Foundation pledged $3 million over four years, which is matched by public funding, to bring the BELL program to the County. This summer marked the first class of BELL scholars in Montgomery County Public Schools.

BELL is a data-driven summer program that serves rising third and fourth graders to help prevent the knowledge drop, or “summer slide,” that occurs among students during the summer months. It is expected that the BELL program will serve 4,200 students in the County during a four-year period.

“In July, I had the opportunity to visit with students in the BELL program at Weller Road Elementary School in Silver Spring,” said Councilmember Navarro. “I experienced how the program fosters a child’s love of learning. I know that this innovative program along with other early interventions and wrap-around services are necessary for all of our children to have the opportunity to succeed. I appreciate the work of our community partners who pulled together through the COF to make a difference.”