School Connect

School Connect is hosting its “A Community Thrives” campaign to connect 70 high-need Arizona schools, including the Avondale Elementary School District, to their surrounding communities. 

The Arizona-based nonprofit’s mission is to tangibly connect all 2,485 Arizona K-12 school campuses with community resources and partnerships so that every student has a well-informed village ready to help them reach their potential.

“We help schools build a village of support around them, because it takes a village to help every child reach their potential,” said Tracey Beal, CEO of School Connect. “There are 2,485 schools in Arizona’s public and charter districts, and we would love to see every school have strategic partnerships that help them become the very best school they can be.”

Through the campaign, School Connect is raising funds to provide seven districts with the necessary project money to host Community and Family Engagement (CAFE) projects to work toward teacher retention, student behavior and academic achievement to help fill the educational, economic, social and emotional needs of the youth and families who attend these schools.

The seven districts chosen to participate in the campaign are all high-poverty, Title I schools.

Using the School Connect CAFE model, schools can fund school projects that make a direct impact on the lives of children.

Some previous projects School Connect helped to facilitate include raising funds for numerous districts to buy new laptops for schools to provide for student use, collaborating with community partners to build gardens in schools, and connecting mentors such as police officers and firefighters with students at some of the participating schools.

Each CAFE will host at least 65 strategic partners representing community organizations, businesses and faith-based partners.

Some organizations that have contributed in the past include Home Depot, Palm Valley church, Skyway church, Grand Canyon University, Estrella Mountain Community College, Chick-fil-A, Peter Piper Pizza and the Salvation Army.

“If you’re in a community and serving children at the school, then you’re serving your own community. That’s kind of that self-fulfilling prophecy everyone benefits from,” said Betsy Hargrove, Avondale Elementary School District (AESD) superintendent.

“That vision really played out very closely in Avondale. Students come back with this refreshed view and an environment that says there are people who want to love on our kids in our community and know that they’re a part of something bigger.”

AESD has been in a partnership with School Connect for six years, having initially collaborated for “Love Our Schools Day,” another campaign focused on outside organizations celebrating their local schools through various efforts, such as through artwork, donations or enhancing school facilities.

Through the school CAFEs, a roundtable collaboration is formed to discuss and plan the projects that will most benefit the district’s needs and maximize opportunities throughout the school year.

“The projects that come out of those CAFEs directly impact the metrics that we’re trying to move. For example, teacher retention has a direct impact on academic achievement and parent engagement, helping our parents engage directly with our kids and what they’re learning,” Beal said.

Participating school or district teacher retention rates will improve by a minimum of 20% over the prior year, as measured by district-teacher retention data, and report a decrease in student behavior referrals by a minimum of 10% over the prior year, as measured by school and/or district discipline data.

By inviting members of the community to sit at roundtables and collaborate, new ideas and partnerships emerge to be able to offer all the success of every child in the schools.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we do amazing things educationally with our children, teaching and learning and making sure that they have that limitless future being augmented or being supported by organizations outside of AESD, which further enhances our reach and our ability to maximize resources — and that has just paid dividends in every way within our community,” Hargrove said.

The CAFEs also provide the opportunity for networking to create a multiplier effect that reaches around an entire community to find the specific resources a school may need.

“When people deliver materials, resources and supplies, whether it be a backpack, back-to-school supplies, or jackets in the wintertime, those are absolutely wonderful and critical and essential for our kids to be able to navigate their world around them,” Hargrove said.

“It really allows our children in our community to understand they’re loved on by many and they are a part of something bigger, and it develops a sense of belonging. The resource is one thing, and also the lasting impact of people who care about us, love on us and want us to be successful, and are part of our future leaning in and moving forward, that’s the power of it.”