The fifth largest school district in Massachusetts, Lynn Public Schools has a crucial mission: preparing more than 17,000 young people to succeed in the college and career opportunities that lie ahead.
This mission isn’t easy. Many students come to school having already experienced various obstacles in their young lives. According to community leaders like new Superintendent Pat Tutwiler, this only makes the role of schools— and helping students overcome the adversity they face— more important: “Our work is anchored in a moral imperative. We’re talking about breaking cycles of poverty, and working with students to help them get control over their own lives. For our students, education is the only means towards equity.”
As pivotal as this responsibility is, helping students succeed is not a task for Lynn Public Schools to complete alone. According to Tutwiler, it is the power of Lynn’s partnerships that will bring this goal into reach. “No matter how heartfelt or genuine the effort, districts like ours can barely tread water, and often sink, without meaningful partnerships like the one we have with United Way.”
In a large district like Lynn, schools succeed when teachers, administrators, families, and dozens of community agencies share a mission to support students as well as a set of common goals and strategies. For Tutwiler, the partnership between Lynn Public Schools and United Way of Massachusetts Bay exemplifies what a good partnership should be. He explains:
“Our partnership results in during-the-day supports for our most at-risk students. Our partnership brings together students and community stakeholders for meaningful experiences for students and city residents. Our partnership pairs students with mentors and role models.”
THE POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS
In 2013, United Way held a series of listening sessions in Lynn for the community to share common hopes and challenges. A few key issues came to the surface that no one community organization or school had sufficient resources to tackle. From these sessions, a number of initiatives would begin to take root and grow into a thriving partnership with Lynn Public Schools.
English Language Learners. A key goal for the district is to expand supports for the significant number of English Language Learners who attend Lynn Public Schools. Of the nearly 6,000 English Language Learners, 60 percent score in the lowest designated levels of English proficiency, affecting students’ performance in every academic subject and disrupting their path to success.
Lynn students have a real need for mentoring as they plan for life after high school. As average class size approaches 30 throughout the district, and students outnumber guidance counselors on the secondary level 375-1, it is incredibly hard for students to navigate decisions about future education and career preparation.
English Language Learners in Lynn find mentorship and academic support through United Way’s North Shore AmeriCorps Program, which matches AmeriCorps Members with English Language Learners in their public school classrooms and out-of-school time settings for additional support. Members help students improve in the areas of comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary, as well as helping with skills like confidence and teamwork.
The AmeriCorps program works. In a recent year, 70% of participating students showed improved academic engagement and 89% showed improvement in social emotional skill development. For members, it is also a meaningful way to launch a career. Kathryn, a Member serving at Girls Inc. in Lynn reflects, “I want immigrant populations to feel like they are welcome in this country and to have the resources they need to succeed.”
Students Experiencing Homelessness. Last academic year, Lynn Public Schools identified nearly 1,200 students as experiencing homelessness. It’s an incredible challenge to provide a consistent and supportive classroom environment to students with unstable housing. The result: these young people are twice as likely to repeat a grade, and are also at higher risks of health issues like asthma and developmental delays.
Lynn Public Schools is addressing this concern through a unique collaboration with United Way and the local housing authority. The partnership, called RISE, works with the whole family to connect them with resources and programming. While parents receive housing and economic mobility resources, children get extra support through their school. Each year, 40% of families in Lynn who work with RISE are able to stabilize their housing and move on from the cycle of housing emergencies.
You can learn more about RISE here.
Early Education and Social and Emotional Learning. Some students are particularly impacted by factors such as poverty, violence, or homelessness. Schools succeed best when students enter kindergarten ready to learn and when they have out-of-school support to develop the confidence, positive relationships, organizational skills, empathy, teamwork, and other skills they will need to succeed in education and in life. Lynn has a network of early education providers and out-of-school time programs that support the healthy development of children. United Way partners with half a dozen organizations such as Raw Art Works, which provides art therapy through its youth art programming. United Way also invests in quality early education and out-of-school time programs in Lynn, including organizations such as Gregg Neighborhood House, Girls Inc. of Lynn, and Metro North YMCA.
A DEEPENING PARTNERSHIP
Six years since the listening sessions that first shaped United Way’s current relationship with the school district of Lynn, the partnership is deep and vibrant. It lives in both the services provided as well as a set of shared values it reflects.
Sarah Link, Vice President for Community Impact at United Way, reflects: “United Way is incredibly honored to play a role in supporting the educational success of a resilient group of Lynn students and their families. We are also honored to be collaborators with Pat Tutwiler and his team of teachers, principals, administrators, social workers, and support staff who work tirelessly on behalf of students.”