New program bridges home-school gap

District Superintendent Dr. William R. Hite, Jr. left, with Michael J. Vogel, CEO of Turning Points for Children at a press conference. -- SUBMITTED PHOTO

At first glance, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and public education in Philadelphia have very little in common, but that will change as education nonprofit Turning Points for Children will use the university to help expand its FAST program here.

The university received a $15 million federal grant, and a portion of that will go toward the continued funding of FAST – Families and Schools Together – a TPC-facilitated program that has been active within the School District of Philadelphia since 2003. According to TPC, this grant will also fund a five-year study on kindergarten students and families, and will work with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services on the assessments included within the study.

As part of the five-year grant, Turning Points for Children will raise $1.5 million from the private sector, including foundations, corporations and individuals.

Turning Points for Children came about as the result of the 2008 merger of the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Society for Services to Children.

“We are grateful to the Wisconsin Center for Education Research for inviting our FAST program to participate in this project,” said Turning Points for Children Executive Director Michael J. Vogel. “We especially want to thank DHS for their support of both FAST and Turning Points for Children over the last seven years.”

FAST will operate in two middle schools this semester, and is intended to bring about a synergy among families, teachers, community stakeholders via a shared meal and a number of structured social activities, including sports and family-oriented events.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the grant under its Invest in Innovation initiative, and the school district, along with Families and Schools Together, Inc. are two of the main partners; the Wisconsin Center for Education Research will be the main facilitators of the five-year project, with organizers there commending the work of the local outfit, noting its dedication and recent gains.

“First, the local agency Turning Points for Children has nine years of experience implementing the FAST program in 30 schools in the district,” said WCER Director Adam Gamoran in a statement released by the center. “The new grant will validate that success on a larger scale while maintaining high quality.

“Second, the School District of Philadelphia has identified parent and family engagement as a priority in school improvement efforts, as reflected in the district’s strategic plan.”

In data provided by Turning Points for Children, according to the 2010 Census, 38.5 percent of Philadelphia families with children under age 18 live below the federal poverty level; the project will study 60 schools – serving more than 4,000 kindergarteners – that are not currently involved with FAST.

“Our students and families need a wealth of resources to success, both inside and outside of school,” said School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr., who attended the grant’s announcement alongside Vogel. “The grant will go a long way toward reaching even more children and families.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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