Philanthropy: Making the Grade
Presented by Hawai‘i Community Foundation: Middle schools connecting for success.
Linell Dilwith, Principal of Stevenson Middle School, hand-picked counselor Christian Ellis (left) and literacy specialist Shawn Roldan (right) because of their 110% commitment to their students.
Middle school is hard. Kids fall behind, lose focus, lose their connection to school and the community. When HCF saw the data on at-risk middle school students — realizing that the single best indicator of high school graduation is the successful, on-time completion of 9th grade — they did something about it. With the generous support of fifteen local business and foundation funders, HCF’s Connecting for Success program puts resources in ten public and charter middle schools and five nonprofit community partners, reaching 900 at-risk students each year with the tools needed to succeed.
“We catch them and make sure they stay on track,” said Stevenson Middle School principal Linell Dilwith, explaining they target students whose behavior, attendance, and grades wave a red flag. Stevenson deploys a tri-level approach: a high-risk needs counselor works with students on emotional and coping strategies; a literacy specialist helps students boost reading skills; and community volunteer mentors connect with them out in the community.
It works. “The students are reluctant at first, then they develop a sense of belonging and don’t want to transition out of the program,” Dilwith said, “So we keep them! Our success story students go on to become role models for our 6th and 7th graders.”
Three years into the program, Dilwith reflects on one eighth grader. “In 6th grade, she was in fights, struggling with peer issues, always in trouble. We focused on social, coping, and organizational skills. She set goals for herself, reflected on who she wants to be. Now, she’s blossomed. Last week I saw her in tears and thought ‘uh-oh, what happened?’ Turns out she’d struggled in math class and walked herself to the counselor to get help. ‘I’m all good now,’ she told me. I could see her confidence, her determination. I know now she’s going to be okay.”
Did you know? Of Hawai‘i’s 37,000 middle school students this year, over 6,000 will not graduate from high school on time without intervention.
To learn more about Connecting for Success, visit HawaiiCommunityFoundation.org.