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Riley Institute Joins $3 Million Education Initiative

Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute, spoke at a news conference announcing the $3 million grant.
Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute, spoke at a news conference announcing the $3 million grant.

GREENVILLE, S.C.—The Riley Institute at Furman University is a major partner in a new community initiative that will work to keep middle school students engaged in school and on track to graduate from high school and college.

The Riley Institute will join United Way of Greenville County and Greenville County Schools to help implement an Early Warning and Response System, an evidence-based dropout prevention strategy, in four Greenville County Schools—Tanglewood Middle School, Lakeview Middle School, Berea Middle School and Greenville Early College.

Piloted effectively in Philadelphia, Phoenix and other communities around the country, the Early Warning Response System utilizes real-time data to identify students beginning to disengage from school as indicated by attendance, behavior and course performance. By identifying students early, a coordinated team of educators and community experts can match students with the right response interventions and then monitor each student’s progress over time.

United Way has been awarded a three-year, $3 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant from the federal government to support the project, aimed at middle-grade students.  The Corporation for National and Community Service awarded the grant after a highly competitive, rigorous nationwide competition, with the possibility of an additional $2 million in funding over two years based on appropriations and performance.

During the next several months, United Way will hold an open competition to select innovative, effective nonprofit solutions-providers to receive grants valued at a minimum of $100,000 for periods of three to five years. The solutions eventually selected must have at least preliminary evidence of impact.

The Riley Institute will conduct rigorous evaluations of the Early Warning and Response System’s overall strategy and of each of the interventions – the solutions – that are put in place to help students. It will track multiple outcomes for each of these solutions and measure the program’s effectiveness over its lifespan. In three or five years’ time not only Greenville School District but districts across the state and nation will have better evidence of what works and how to best focus resources to help students transition successfully out of middle school and into and through high school.

“This project matters for many reasons, not just because of the way it stands to change the lives of the students, families and communities of the White Horse Road area, but also because the rigorous evaluation component that we will undertake will deepen our understanding of which strategies work best in middle school to help students transition successfully into high school,” said Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute.

Greenville County Schools has already committed to invest in the technology to implement the “early warning” portion of the project, while United Way will sub-grant the federal dollars and matching funds to qualified nonprofits offering the “response.” This wrap-around support for students and their families can include such things as health care, transportation, affordable housing, or other issues preventing students from succeeding in school.

“We are pleased to join with the United Way and the Riley Institute to provide a network of community support necessary to ensure our students’ success. This exciting partnership offers a long-term solution that will not only strengthen the communities in which our students live, but will translate into greater academic success for these students during the middle school years,” said Greenville County Schools Superintendent W. Burke Royster. “By providing a strong system of support that meets the individual needs of each student, we believe we will see fewer dropouts and an increase in our graduation rate among this segment of our community.”

The federal funds will be matched dollar for dollar by United Way, private foundations, and corporations, and then matched again by funded subgrantees, for a potential community investment of $15 million over five years. Commitments from Hollingsworth Fund and the Community Foundation of Greenville, as well as corporate support from Wells Fargo, have gotten the matching process underway.

SIF uses limited federal investment as a catalyst to grow community-based nonprofits with evidence of strong results. Five years into the program, the Social Innovation Fund and its nonfederal partners have committed to invest more than $700 million in effective community solutions.

“This grant represents a major win for all of us as it validates the power of collaboration that we so strongly believe in at United Way,” said United Way President Ted Hendry. “We are extremely proud to be included among a very select list of organizations from across the country that have received Social Innovation Fund grants over the past five years, and are very excited about the possibilities this creates for the children of this community and the future of Greenville County.

For more information, visit the United Way of Greenville County website.

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