It may sound trite, but when it comes to K-12 schooling in cash-starved Arizona, it really does take a village to educate a child, especially to world-class standards.
And to Flagstaff’s credit, this community had done just that and is upping the ante through an umbrella advocacy group called LAUNCH (Learn, Advocate, Unite, Network, Contribute, Help). It’s a coalition of businesses, civic groups, academics and others (full disclosure: the list includes the Arizona Daily Sun) that is looking to better coordinate existing programs and focus on the highest-priority needs.
And this week, after more than a year of research and deliberation by its community leadership council, LAUNCH has released an initial blueprint for action that focuses first on each end of the learning curve: kindergarten preparation and readiness for post-secondary education and a career. They are two of the five goals LAUNCH has set for the Flagstaff region (the others are third-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency and high school graduation.)
So how will it work? Getting every pre-kindergarten child into a high-quality preschool seems like a daunting but critical task, based on the research. Only 47 percent of children in Flagstaff enter kindergarten with the skills needed for academic success, and it’s a lag that shows up right through lower third-grade reading scores. One challenge is just getting a handle on all the pre-school programs out there, then improving the quality. Head Start and First Things First are two important partners, but so are local pediatricians who can spread the word about vaccinations and family support groups that can help parents integrate key preschool skills into everyday experiences like trips to the grocery store.
On the career and college readiness side, using volunteers through United Way and others to get parents and students to fill out a financial aid form has a direct link to higher post-secondary enrollment, studies have found. And high school students who also take a community college course are more likely to go farther in formal education after graduation, while high schoolers doing local internships for credit are more motivated to pursue certification or courses in a field that inspires them.
So as we noted, it takes a village and all of its resources, from the business and nonprofit sectors alike, to meet the educational needs of a student in Flagstaff. This is particularly true for the 24 percent of children living in poverty and their parents struggling to pay the rent, hold down several jobs and find time to help with homework, too. We as a community can’t hold their hands. But by giving all families and their children the tools they need to succeed educationally, we build stability and resilience that is the mark of a healthy community – and one that is just and fair, too.