Last summer, D.C. Public Schools launched its first-ever Adopt-a-School program with the goal of creating long-term partnerships between its 100-plus schools and local businesses, organizations, and religious groups. The program was designed to be more beneficial than the annual Beautification Day it replaced, which, as its name implies, lasted for one day.
With the 2015-2016 school year more than halfway over, how is Adopt-a-School shaping up?
According to Josephine Bias Robinson, DCPS’ chief of family and public engagement, 36 schools have entered relationships with 27 groups—including brands as big as the Washington football team’s charitable foundation, D.C. United, and Wells Fargo, but also smaller community-based nonprofits like the Backpack Project. There is currently at least one school in each of the District’s eight wards participating in the program, with the exception of Ward 3.
“Over 5,000 students students have been touched by these partnerships,” Robinson says. “The program requires a bit more work than previously has happened, sitting down together creating these plans… I want to emphasize that it’s not just about corporate partners: Organizations of any size can be of great support to the entire school system.”
One of those smaller organizations is Warren Lodge No. 8, a fraternal order based on U Street NW that’s partnered with Browne Education Campus, a grammar school in Ward 5. Daryel Dunston Sr., the executive director of the order, says Warren Lodge’s adopting of BEC was “a natural progression” from its work on Beautification Day. The order has been organizing a monthly food distribution program at the school in coordination with Martha’s Table. The latter organization provides fruits, vegetables, a starch, and snacks, which Warren Lodge’s members (of whom there are currently around 100) give out typically on the fourth Monday of every month. If a student or their family cannot make it to BEC for the event, Warren Lodge will deliver the packed items to their homes. The order also collected 102 coats for a drive on Dec. 14, working with a social worker identify the students most in need.
In the coming months, Warren Lodge is planning college tours for BEC’s 8th graders, having already taken over 50 students to a college fair held at the Convention Center last year. Seven members served as chaperones who guided the students on public transportation and—just as important—Dunston says, talked with the students about school.
The executive director recalls a BEC student named Dannell, whom he describes as “very energetic, a jokester, but highly intelligent.” After talking with him for a bit, Dunston says Dannell became more motivated to attend college.
“The beauty of this program is that you’re developing a rapport with the staff, students, and their families, building something you can sustain for the long-term,” he says. “And that piece is why my members are very motivated about this partnership: You get to feel like you’re really having an impact on the students’ and their families’ lives.”
Warren Lodge is also planning a father-daughter luncheon for BEC’s students expected to take place in April. The monthly food drives typically serve at least 50 families, but sometimes that number swells to more than 70 families.
On the other side of the spectrum, not-for-profit company CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has partnered with C.W. Harris Elementary School in Ward 7. On Friday, CareFirst will hold a coat and winter-clothing drive that’s brought in 120 coats for C.W. Harris, explains Maria Tildon, senior vice president of public policy and community affairs.
“Whenever we enter into a partnership like this, we like to have the school drive what it is that they need,” she says, citing $40 million CareFirst contributed towards community-based investments in 2015. “And we take that basic-needs assessment and try to align it with what we can do as a company from a health care perspective.” CareFirst’s future projects with C.W. Harris could include advising a student wellness council and holding a health care clinic.
You can see a complete list of the to-date partnerships below:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery; table via DCPS