Posted March 9, 20209:26 am
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Say Yes to Education leaders in Cleveland will give their first public update on the college scholarship and supports program this week, while also hoping to answer questions from residents.
The New York-based Say Yes to Education program officially launched in Cleveland last January when city, school and charitable foundation leaders raised enough money to start offering scholarships to last year’s high school graduates.
The district and Cuyahoga County also hired 16 full-time employees known as “family support specialists” this school year to work in schools to connect students and families to services they need, in hopes of clearing away obstacles blocking kids from learning in school and succeeding.
The Say Yes program calls for regular communication with residents and between all the community groups that work on different parts of the program. So each Say Yes city — Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y., and Guilford County (Greensboro, N.C.) — has a “Community Leadership Council” of about 60 city, county, school and charity leaders meet with the public a few times a year.
Cleveland’s still-forming council will have its first meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Cuyahoga Community College’s Jerry Sue Thornton Center, 2500 East 22nd St.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish will have opening remarks. Say Yes staff and volunteers will then update the public on fundraising, how many students have used scholarships so far, social support services that have been added to schools and the plans for the future.
Say Yes Cleveland spokesman Jon Benedict said about an hour is reserved for questions from the community. He said the meeting offers a chance to learn about the program, see what progress has been made in the last year and find out how families can use Say Yes services.
A new handbook to help students use Say Yes scholarships is attached below. It replaces an earlier version after Cleveland school district CEO Eric Gordon had students review the old one and make suggestions so that students and families could understand it better.
The council will have significant progress to report, but nothing conclusive, as the program is meant to take a few years to roll out.
The Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship Inc. nonprofit has set up offices in the basement of the Cleveland Public Library’s main branch downtown, claiming an office off the walkway between the two library buildings. Separate committees continue to meet to oversee scholarships, fundraising and support services.
Say Yes still needs to raise more scholarship money, college attendance rates need to rise and it’s still three-and-a-half years before we’ll know how many students will earn college diplomas. There’s also three more years to go on a 4-year plan to roll out social services to all schools. And families still need to be informed about opportunities.
“It’s a continuous process,” said Dianne Downing, executive director of Say Yes Cleveland. “We need to keep working it.”
Gene Chasin, president of Say Yes nationally, said Cleveland’s progress is “accelerated,” compared to earlier cities.
“The local partners in the Say Yes Cleveland chapter have accomplished a huge amount in one year, and, speaking from the perspective of the Say Yes National senior leadership team, all is going according to plan,” Chasin said.
Money: Say Yes and community leaders estimate that Say Yes Cleveland needs $125 million to provide scholarships over 25 years. At the launch last year, Say Yes had commitments of $88.4 million from more than 40 companies and individuals. That total has risen to $93 million today but Say Yes remains more than $30 million from its goal.
Raising money after launch has been a challenge for other promise programs, including other Say Yes cities. That issue was resolved in Buffalo and Syracuse only when the state stepped in with grants and a statewide scholarship program.
Chasin said he is not worried. Say Yes required Cleveland to have a larger percentage of the goal raised before last year’s launch than the previous cities, so it was ahead from the start.
Scholarships: The Jan. 18 launch last year gave Cleveland school district seniors just a few months’ notice before graduation that scholarships were available. But college enrollment for the high school class of 2019 still rose to 44%, up 4 percentage points from previous three years. The increase came from more students attending community college.
Say Yes organizers are hoping for 3% or greater increases each year for the first three years of the scholarships, followed by 1% increases each year after that. Over time, the city and Say Yes will monitor rates of students returning to college each year, as well as those completing degrees.
Mentoring: Say Yes and College Now of Greater Cleveland want every student to have an adult mentor when they head off to college, so College Now expanded its existing mentorship program for the first year of Say Yes scholarships.
College Now says it paired mentors to 873 new college freshmen in the fall, 722 of whom are Say Yes Cleveland scholarship recipients. Others had enough aid from elsewhere to not need the scholarships.
Say Yes and College Now are seeking another 1,200 volunteers for this coming spring’s graduates. Mentors need to have a college degree, commit to a short training and agree to exchange messages with a student twice per month and meet in person three times per year.
(If interested in mentoring, individuals can contact Jabari Dorsey, Mentoring Program Manager, at email@example.com or 216-635-0268.)
Support services: A key part of Say Yes is hiring full-time “Family Support Specialists” to work in each school to link students with family, food, clothing, health or other needs to the right social service agencies to help them. Cleveland has had a similar system in place for several years at some schools but expanded it this year by adding specialists to 16 schools.
“Some of the impediments of school are simply students not having coats, or uniforms,” Victor Young, director of student and family services for Say Yes Cleveland, said at a City Club of Cleveland forum earlier this year. “It’s really about responding to needs on the ground…and making the connection to resources that already exist in the community.”
Money from the district, Say Yes and Cuyahoga County will pay for specialists in 42 schools for the 2020-’21 school year, 74 schools in 2021-’22 and all schools in the district (about 100, as some schools close or merge) by 2022-’23.
Say Yes Cleveland also just launched afterschool programs at 16 schools and is working on summer programs now.
Health care: Say Yes wants to offer health care for students at district schools, so students have easy access to care and don’t have to miss school going to midday doctors’ appointments.
The Cleveland school district has set up medical, dental and vision care for multiple schools, just not aligned to the family support specialists. Say Yes Cleveland will be forming an Integrated Health Task Force this spring to further coordinate services.
So far, Care Alliance visits five schools in the Central neighborhood monthly for routine checkups, urgent care needs, immunizations and STD and pregnancy tests. The MetroHealth system visits 11 schools on a monthly basis, providing similar care to students at no cost, just billing insurance when it is available.
The dental school at Case Western Reserve University also periodically visits 67 schools in the city to provide services.
Legal: Say Yes wants parents to have access to free legal advice so they can resolve issues that can affect students’ lives before they disrupt learning.
Cleveland is still working on its full plan, but family support specialists can refer parents to the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and parents can seek help at Legal Aid’s community clinics, listed here. So far, families have needed help with housing issues, immigration, bankruptcy, debt and barriers to employment, Colleen Cotter, Legal Aid’s executive director, said at the City Club discussion.
“All of these impact on the ability of that child to get to school, stay in school and benefit from school,” Cotter said.
She added, “Sometimes …the best tool to remove that barrier is a lawyer.”