Our approach to education

Education is one of the Foundation’s five focus areas for grantmaking. In this Q&A, the Foundation’s Education team explains our priorities and goals — and the difference Weinberg hopes these investments will make.

Why does the Weinberg Foundation focus on education?

Education is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty and unlocking opportunity. Yet far too many young people are unable to realize their full potential and successfully transition to college or a career of their choice because they lack the necessary skills and support.

The pandemic exposed and exacerbated inequities in education. Students across the country have fallen behind academically, with youth of color and those living in poverty hardest hit. Chronic absenteeism — missing 10% or more of the school year — has nearly doubled for all students (now at about 33%) and is even higher among young people of color, another setback to their success in school and beyond.

We see additional challenges at the local level. For example, Baltimore City’s high school graduation rate of 71% is significantly below the national average of 86%. And in Hawaiʻi, only 50% of high school graduates enroll in college, compared to 62% nationally.

The pandemic and social media also have driven a rise in anxiety and depression among young people, so much so that the surgeon general recently declared a youth mental health crisis. In a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of high school students said they experienced persistent feelings of sadness during the previous year, a 13.5% increase from 2019 and a 50% increase from 2011.

The Foundation aims to provide educational and developmental opportunities during middle school and high school, and the years immediately after, so that all young people have the best chance to succeed as adults.

What are the priorities of the Foundation’s grantmaking in this area?

We work with nonprofits, public agencies, and communities to increase the number of students graduating from high school and completing postsecondary education or training. To achieve this goal, we have identified three priorities:

  1. Creating clear, intentional paths to college and careers. Our focus begins with middle school, including programs that help youth develop skills, ensure students are meeting key milestones, and introduce them to a wide variety of academic areas and careers. We also invest in efforts that equip high school graduates to get a job; pursue postsecondary education, whether earning an industry-recognized credential or attending a four-year college or university; and complete
  2. Supporting academic success. We aim to help students who are struggling to develop reading and math proficiency by funding programs in and outside of school that enable kids to stay on track to graduate with the skills they need to be successful. We prioritize evidence-based models that equip students to master core academic subjects, such as algebra, and support successful transitions from middle to high school and to postsecondary education.
  3. Promoting adolescent health. Students in low-income families often lack adequate access to sports and physical activity, which can negatively affect their health and academic performance. We fund efforts that bolster the physical and mental well-being of adolescents so they can fully engage in school and life, such as youth development programs grounded in sports that provide coaching, academic support, and fitness activities.

Finally, we continue to invest in the Baltimore Elementary and Middle School Library Project, which launched in 2011 to transform city school libraries in neighborhoods where many students face academic and economic challenges. These libraries — which now serve over 7,700 students and their families in 17 schools — are an important resource for children and their families, helping to meet critical needs and underscoring our fundamental belief that every child deserves the best.

How has the Foundation’s grantmaking focused on education evolved over time?

The Foundation has long supported high-quality out-of-school-time programs — which represented the lion’s share of our education grants from 2018 through 2021 — because of the profound lack of public investment in such programs, as well as the dearth of these opportunities for children in low-income families.

To better support young people’s development and long-term success, we now have narrowed our focus to the critical developmental window of adolescence. While we prioritize high school graduation and postsecondary completion, we take a holistic view of what enables young people to thrive and fund programs that cover the full range of their educational and developmental needs, from academic skills and enrichment to hands-on learning opportunities and work experience to mental and physical health.

Many of the needs we now seek to address — such as ensuring youth have safe, healthy spaces where they can learn new skills or find fulfillment in their jobs — are tied to the goals and dreams that young people have shared with grantees and partners.

What are recent examples of grants in this area?

Preparing for college and careers: In Hawaiʻi, Searider Productions at Wai‘anae High School offers career and technical education programs in the areas of photography, video, graphic design, and marketing that also allow students to earn college credits from Leeward Community College. Of the 170 students who completed programs in the past three years, 90% graduated from high school and 85% went to college, compared to a respective 79% and 25% of their peers who did not participate. Searider also operates social-enterprise initiatives with opportunities to build real-world skills, providing video production, graphic design, animation, and marketing services for local businesses and nonprofits.

Supporting academic success: SMART (Schools Mentoring and Resource Team) is a program in the San Francisco Bay Area that helps young people successfully navigate middle school, high school, and college. The program — which works with students who have limited access to opportunity — supports young people from fourth grade through college graduation. This includes providing after-school enrichment, summer programming, and assistance with enrolling in rigorous and diverse middle and high schools, as well as with college preparation, enrollment, and persistence. Over the past decade, all program participants have graduated and 95% have enrolled in college, compared to a respective 83% and 51% of their peers in low-income families.

Fostering adolescent health: Based in Baltimore, Harlem Lacrosse seeks to create opportunities for middle and high school student athletes. The nonprofit’s sports and youth development program involves daily study halls, mentoring, academic support and tutoring, admissions counseling, leadership training, career exploration, college trips, and lacrosse instruction and competition. In the 2022–2023 school year, all participants advanced to the next grade level on time with an average GPA increase of 9%, while also becoming stronger, faster, and more skilled on the lacrosse field.

What does the future hold for the Foundation’s grantmaking in education?

We will continue to listen and learn from our partners and young people and expect to refine our grantmaking accordingly. Most immediately, we aim to develop consistent metrics for our work in this area in partnership with our grantees to share lessons and increase impact across the Foundation’s priority communities.

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Education
Education is one of the Foundation’s five focus areas for grantmaking. In this Q&A, the Foundation’s Education team explains our priorities and goals — and the difference Weinberg hopes these investments will make. Why does the Weinberg Foundation focus on education? Education is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty and unlocking opportunity....