The foundation, which grew out of the “Yes We Can! Birmingham” campaign to increase community engagement in city schools in 2009, worked primarily to raise funding for school initiatives at first but began organizing its own programs to help Birmingham school students in 2013. Since that time the foundation, also known as BEF and ED, has been offering new programs and initiatives every year, said Program Director Victoria Hollis.
This fall, BEF will organize “Network Priority Councils” at Birmingham schools, which they will select later. The councils will bring together community members and school administrators to discuss and address issues affecting their school and its students. The foundation will help the councils, which will consist of up to 15 members each, develop and implement action plans to resolve these issues.
The Birmingham Education Foundation’s mission “is to increase the number of Birmingham students who are college, career and life ready,” said Hollis, “and the primary strategy by which we do that is by engaging a diverse network of people in Birmingham who are investing in and advocating for our students through their engagement in our programs. So [establishing the Network Priority Councils] is all about building that sense of community in a more organic way.”
Other new initiatives launched this year by the foundation are aimed more directly at helping students prepare for life after high school. The new executive internship program, for example, will place 35 high school seniors into paying internships with partner organizations including UAB Hospital, Alabama Power, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The students will work 120 hours during the school year for $10 an hour.
“The students will submit their applications to us, we’ll review them, and then a select number of them will be invited to an internship expo where they will interview with the partners who are hiring,” Hollis explained. “Then we’ll do it kind of like a med school matching process, where the interviewers will rank the students, the students will rank the interviewers and we’ll place them in their internships.”
This year will also see the launch of Student Directed Learning Plans, a digital course-management system that will help students, starting as young as ninth grade, plan out their high school careers with their path after graduation in mind.
The web-based platform will map out three potential post-graduation pathways: post-secondary education, a move straight into a career or military service. Students will choose the two pathways that most appeal to them, and the program will help them determine what they need to do over the remainder of their high school years to prepare for post-graduation life. For example, a student who decided to pursue a path to college would see what GPA they need to maintain, how many Advanced Placement classes they should schedule and what admission tests they need to take, among other information.
The Student-Directed Learning Plans will be hosted on a pre-existing technology platform in its first year—the foundation is still deciding between creating a website or using an existing course-management system—but BEF plans to work with a developer to create a custom web-based program with an accompanying mobile app for the 2017-2018 school year.
“Our job is not to create the pathway for students. It’s to make sure they’ve got the information they need to make a decision about their future,” said Hollis. “[The Student Directed Learning Plan tool is] operationalizing that post-high school prep process and giving students the opportunity to go into military, straight to career, or into post-secondary education, but making sure that the decision they make is one that they’ve been in the process of making for four years and not something that they decide based on the circumstances of the now.”
Hollis noted that BEF could not continue to grow and expand its programs without the assistance of the Birmingham community. Over 600 individuals volunteered their time to help the foundation’s events and initiatives last year, Hollis said, amounting to well over 1,000 volunteer hours.
“I am overwhelmed by the generosity of this community,” Hollis said. “We would not have been able to do it if we didn’t have the manpower of the entire city of Birmingham behind us, and that’s been a game changer. That’s what’s cool for the students. They’re interacting with so many people throughout the city, creating relationships with people all up and down the chain of command in Birmingham.”