A Community Aligned for Student Success

by Marcia J. Bolden
Align Peoria

A community is only as strong as its students. It is our responsibility to help them grow. 

Through the dedication and innovation of selfless individuals, Align Peoria advances the mission to work collectively on creative solutions for raising student achievement and improving our community’s economic and social well-being. It was formed with the belief that if efforts became focused and coordinated, the impact on school performance would be transformational. 

The role of our office is to work with and support Peoria Public Schools as it strives to deliver the highest quality of education to our local citizens. Using a proven national model, Align Peoria employs a methodology and suite of tools that provide a culture shift toward alignment. The results of these efforts include consensus, synergy, resource-sharing and enhanced outcomes—beyond traditional approaches to collaboration. 

As we align the work of hundreds of volunteers through partnerships with public, private and civic organizations, our Alignment teams (or A-Teams) are working on creative solutions to improve student outcomes. Our priority areas of focus include employability, attendance, literacy, health and wellness, mentoring, and graduation attainment. 

Collaborative Impact
Since Align Peoria’s inception, many volunteers with unique experiences, knowledge and resources have explored the needs of Peoria Public Schools. Month after month, intersectional thinkers and thought leaders are designing creative tactics and implementing innovative strategies to ensure that all students can thrive and achieve success. 

Research studies reveal that well-implemented school and community partnership programs can provide a range of benefits. According to International Survey Associates, these benefits include increased “student attendance, higher achievement, fewer behavioral problems, and an increase in positive attitudes about school and homework.” 

Unfortunately, poverty, unemployment, community health concerns and reductions in government funding continue to create a burden on public education and staff. Peoria Public Schools maintains an enrollment size of more than 13,000 students—and 69 percent are from low-income families. 

When it comes to solving social problems and deep-rooted issues connected to poverty, we understand that no one initiative can be a final solution. Instead, Align Peoria focuses on the collaborative impact each program or tactic can make in one or more areas of need. As pilots are designed and implemented, leveraging funding to support the innovative work of our A-Teams is essential. 

We continue to inspire Alignment teams toward delivering tangible outcomes, expanding partnerships, engaging community stakeholders and aligning resources. As we enter our third year of operation, Align Peoria kicked off the new year with a refreshed brand, a new logo and more than 150 cross-sector collaborators. 

Building Momentum
In collaboration with school and community partners, our A-Teams are connecting to common goals related to improving student outcomes in Peoria Public Schools, with an emphasis on college and career readiness and student health. In 2018, we celebrated the successful deployment and expansion of our first pilot, “See It. Be It.” In a four-month period, this program exposed more than 5,700 primary and middle school students to a variety of career pathways. 

Our Career Awareness Design Team developed this pilot to help drive student excitement and interest in career options, including direct experiences with working professionals. Participating students met face-to-face with individuals in various occupations to learn about the jobs and their corresponding skillsets. The program featured 76 in-class career speakers and provided field trips to workplaces highlighting emergency services, engineering, health occupations and city government. The impact of this single pilot resulted in the alignment of 31 collaborating business organizations, $14,000 in resources and 256 donated volunteer-hours.

What is possible when efforts become focused and coordinated? Some of our nation's most notable achievements illustrate the transforming power of aligned community collaboration. The Apollo program, for example, placed a man on the moon by rallying 400,000 people and 20,000 corporations and academic institutions. The Manhattan Project successfully aligned the work of 130,000 scientists, engineers and others to produce the first atomic bomb. 

With the continued support and expansion of our dedicated volunteers, Align Peoria is well positioned to achieve even greater works in 2019. Together, we are making history for our community. More importantly, we have the privilege of lifting up those who struggle, empowering those who doubt, and working to release the potential of our future citizens, workforce and neighbors. 

We believe a community is only as strong as its students, and it is our responsibility to help them grow. Schools can’t do it all, but a community can. iBi

Marcia Bolden is executive director of Align Peoria, online at alignpeoria.org. For more information, call (309) 550-9269 or email marciabolden@alignpeoria.org

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