Nationwide, 661,000 high school graduates in the Class of 2018 who were eligible–but didn’t complete an application–for federal financial aid lost out on their share of $2.6 billion in free money for college, according to NerdWallet, a financial media company.

How is this happening when cost is a top reason many students give for not pursuing or completing postsecondary education?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is key to getting money for postsecondary education, including work-study, government grants and loans, aid from states, and scholarships from organizations and schools.

Fear or confusion about completing the FAFSA or an assumption by some families that they need not bother because their students would not qualify for aid are common reasons given for a lower-than-desired FAFSA completion rates.

The same factors cause some families to miss out on potential state scholarships and grants by not submitting the Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA), required for Florida Bright Futures.

To clear up confusion and emphasize the importance of completing the forms, a community-wide campaign is launching October 1 through the Local College Access Network to provide assistance for all high school seniors and their families to complete the FAFSA and FFAA applications as integral to postsecondary planning.

We are committed to this collaborative, full-press endeavor. Increased FAFSA completion rates are related to higher rates of postsecondary completion, especially among low-income students, which aligns with the strategic goals of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and LCAN. In fact, some states (not Florida) now require that seniors complete the FAFSA as a graduation requirement.

The FAFSA is worth taking the time to fill out. For one thing, financial aid is not just for students with lower incomes. More students are eligible to receive financial aid than their families might realize. Many scholarships, grants and other types of assistance, such as merit-based awards, are not needs-based but require the FAFSA information to be considered.

Another important clarification is that students planning to go to technical colleges are eligible for financial aid; it is not limited to traditional college or university students.

Students who qualify for Bright Futures scholarships programs, but think they don’t need to complete the FFAA because they are going to college out of state, are advised to reconsider. If they don’t file their FFAA by Aug. 31 of their senior year, they can’t tap into their Bright Futures funds should circumstances change and they return to Florida.

Everyone has a role to play in this community-wide campaign. Volunteers are needed to help families complete the applications. Prior experience with the FAFSA application is not needed. Free training will be provided September 16 and September 19 at United Way of Suncoast office. Go to http://www.LaunchYourPlan.com/fafsa to find specific dates and locations of FAFSA and Bright Futures open houses and register for volunteer training.

The FAFSA and FFAA applications open Oct. 1, and you can apply beginning that day. Helpful links are provided at the end of this column. Because many colleges and universities make priority financial aid decisions by December 1, it’s advantageous to apply as soon as possible.

A series of FAFSA and Bright Futures open houses will be held during the month of October at convenient locations throughout Sarasota County for families that need assistance. There is no charge to students and families. Financial aid officers from colleges will be present to assist with technical aspects, and dual-language volunteer support will be available.

Don’t let funds go to waste. If you have a senior, you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. Remember, applications open Oct. 1. Please spread the word to your neighbors, family and friends.

Advertisements

A5AB4D75-C52A-4357-A903-F0A41BD643EA

As families make back-to-school shopping lists and other preparations for a new academic year, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County (EFSC) also is endeavoring to have our strategies and activities ready to support students and teachers who will be arriving soon on school campuses.

Of course, our preparations were underway long before the summer break. Just as we encourage incoming 9th graders to look beyond just their freshman year to plan their course sequence for all of high school, we apply that same principle to our own organization’s long-term planning.

Last year we delved into the thorough, comprehensive activity of recreating our multi-year strategic framework. The exhaustive process was timely and necessary to appropriately reflect our recent pivot to focus on work grounded in and resulting from the EFSC’s College, Career and Life Readiness (CCLR) Initiative.

Our CCLR Initiative was designed in response to our organization’s intensified emphasis on and collective commitment to help prepare our students to be ready to pursue and succeed in well-chosen postsecondary pathways. In other words, we want our graduating students to be qualified and ready to flourish in college, career—and life.

Attaining that success doesn’t start in the senior year, or even in the 9th grade of high school. It begins with imbedding a readiness mindset throughout the K-12 continuum.

To that end, we reassess all of our programs and initiatives regularly to ensure they all are connected to our ultimate goal.

Take the EducateSRQ program, for example. Our signature teacher and classroom grants program, EducateSRQ is in its 29th year, having begun shortly after the EFSC was founded 31 years ago. The program is still going strong because it has been updated to keep pace with changing needs.

We keep our organizational lens focused on EducateSRQ in terms of providing the most effective resources to teachers but also to reward those schools and teachers that support innovative 21st century concepts, including immersive experiential learning.

In other new activities, we are excited to be spending our summer preparing to open our third Student Success Center at Sarasota High School (SHS) this fall.  The SHS center will join two that we piloted successfully at North Port High School and Riverview High School last school year.            The centers, which function as information and resource hubs for high school students, are hosted by partnering high schools and staffed with full-time college-career advisors who are full-time employees of the EFSC.

Data reports and student and teacher testimonials indicate the pilot Student Success Centers were embraced and utilized effectively by students and teachers. Those reports, coupled with data resulting from the ongoing implementation of Naviance, a college and career readiness platform, both validate the direction of the CCLR Initiative and provide insights for adapting curriculum and supports to further boost effectiveness.

The CCLR Initiative, with the component of life readiness receiving equal attention to the more familiar college and career components, is viewed as timely and increasingly valuable on a local and statewide level with Gov. Ron DeSantis signing House Bill 7071. The legislation mandates that school days include college and career work and aspects of social-emotional learning that are covered in our life readiness component.

With our long-term College, Career and Life Readiness Initiative already established and representing a shared vision with the Sarasota County Schools district, our partnership and work for our schools are more critical than ever.

We also are excited about the role we recently assumed as backbone organization guiding the work of the Sarasota County Local College Access Network (LCAN). The LCAN is a cross-sector, multi-partner collaborative that shares our commitment to increasing students’ college and career readiness, postsecondary access and completion for all socio-economic student groups.

We cannot and we don’t want to do all this work in isolation. Our work is done through the hands of many.

We welcome the community’s involvement. Whether it’s helping provide classroom resources, speaking about your profession in a classroom, or contributing to a Student Success Center, we need all “hands on deck” to respond to the new urgency to prepare students for the future.

02D46328-25F8-4A6C-AB0A-0D8BFF7A84BF

Going to a conference is an experience that can be embraced or endured.

Busy people everywhere can relate to the questions: Is it worth taking time away from my family and office? What can I gain from this conference that I can internalize and share with colleagues?

Having just returned from the Leadership Florida annual conference, my answers are an emphatic “YES” to the first question and “A LOT” to the second.

As a member of the 2018 Leadership Florida Education Class, it was my first statewide annual Leadership Florida conference.

I expected a lineup of luminaries as speakers. What was unexpected was the incredible impact of the speakers’ life experiences and lessons they shared about the meaning of leadership.

More than clever nuggets, their words were meaty food for thought. Presented earnestly, they resonated, challenged and planted seeds in my mind.

In the spirit of sharing, I offer key points from speakers who made the deepest impressions.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of The Equal Justice Initiative and author of “Just Mercy.” By his actions, Stevenson models points that he reiterated for us as leaders to help change the world.

·      Get proximate. Until you walk in the shoes of another person, you can’t fully understand that person’s actions, motives or views. I recognized this definition of proximate as it applied to my recent immersive visit to Israel and the effect it had on altering my own perspective.

·      Change the narrative. Leaders must draw upon courage to change the narrative. Currently we operate in the politics of fear and anger–the ingredients of oppression–and we lean on false ideologies to help us reconcile immorality. As leaders, we should journey to higher ground and be willing to help those who need us most. That truth begets reconciliation.

·      Stay hopeful. Hope is critical to the capacity to change.

·      Commit to doing things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient if we want to change the world.

Brad Meltzer, best-selling author and board member of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation. In talking about medals of honor and leadership, Meltzer shared his view that leadership is not just being in charge; rather, it’s taking care of those who are in your charge.

“Show me your heroes and I’ll show you who you are.” Meltzer’s provocative comments challenged us as leaders to consider our own medals of honor such as courage, bravery, decency and humility while reflecting on what it took to earn them. Those traits are the key ingredients that we need in our leaders.

Liz Murray, whose personal story was depicted in the “Homeless to Harvard” film and her memoir, “Breaking Night.” Murray’s presentation was incredibly moving as she spoke with raw authenticity about her life’s journey living on the streets before being admitted to Harvard University. We were a large audience in a big room but Murray’s vulnerability made it seem we were having an intimate conversation.

Murray shared some gems about what she has learned along the way to becoming a person who is widely admired.

·      You need to love the human and correct the behavior.

·      People will grow into the conversation you have around and with them.

·      Possibility is found in action.

·      Cynicism is the atrophy of imagination and atrophy of the heart.

·      No one is coming! If you’re going to effect change, you have to be the one.

Ruby Payne, educator and author of “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” It’s daunting to attempt wrapping one’s arms around the topic of poverty. Payne provides a framework to understand differences in circles of connections, achievements and relationships to examine where the circles overlap and separate. When differences aren’t fully understood, well-intentioned efforts often fail. An example is when people of wealth sincerely try to solve problems of poverty without first understanding what poverty really is or asking those in poverty how they would solve the problem. Payne brought the concept home when pointing out how different circles spend time. Equity of time is one thing common to everyone in all circles but the distribution of how time is spent differs widely. People in poverty view 24 hours in terms of surviving whereas people who aren’t in poverty think about what they can achieve in the same 24 hours.

The speakers’ inspiring messages motivated us, as leaders, to own the incumbent responsibility to take action and not tuck away these concepts to validate ourselves.

If we really want to effect change for good, even when we feel like we’re pushing the ball uphill, the task ahead is choosing how we will move forward and what we will do from here. I believe we are equal to the task.

Have you ever had a life-altering experience that left you completely and utterly changed? If so, were you able to channel it for good?

After having returned recently from an interfaith community trip to Israel, sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, I have a renewed sense of commitment for what it means to be a contributing member of my community.

I am grateful to have had this experience, which was exponentially magnified because of the people who joined me on this journey. Similar to the kibbutzim we visited while traversing Israel from north to south and east to west, our group—a melting pot of diversity in all definitions of the word—assimilated into a tightly woven family that embraced Ziggy Marley’s song, “Love is My Religion.” I simply can’t imagine my life without these people in it.

While my preconceived notions of Israel were limited, we were exposed to enriching life lessons that ignited my senses and triggered great emotion. We listened to a trauma surgeon from the Galilee Medical Center share stories of the more than 1,600 patients who were treated during the Syrian War using an underground emergency department of the medical center. Seeing how the Israelites provided humanitarian aid to Syrians reminded me of the guiding principle that in everything, “do unto others what you would have them do to you.”

During two days of our visit, fighting broke out in the Gaza Strip. We could hear hundreds of rockets and missiles firing, and yet we never felt in danger even though we were just 40 miles away. With enemy countries adjacent to the Israeli border, we could see the Hezbollah flag waving in the distance. It was surreal.

The next day, we celebrated Israel’s Memorial Day—Yom HaZikaron—when the entire nation stopped for a moment of silence as sirens sounded, paying homage to those who died in service. The following day, we celebrated and danced for Yom HaAtzmaut—Independence Day—as Israel celebrated its 71st anniversary as an independent nation. From somber to euphoria, the sense of patriotism was palpable and drove home for me this truth: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

We visited a school that is a network of integrated, bilingual schools for Jewish, Christian and Arab children in Israel. Embracing their differences, respecting their heritages and seeing them playing with one another reinforced for me to honor everyone. I also learned that the Israeli military protects all public areas, including schools, which led me to conclude that school security is a matter of national defense. While educating students may be a local issue, protecting students should be a federal responsibility so that we can give justice to the weak and use vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

These were just a few of the many rich experiences our group felt together. Ultimately, the greater lesson I learned was that often, our vision is limited by where we are; we can see only from the place where we are standing. By being not just open but thirsty and hungry to learn, I absorbed a nation, culture, heritage, history and religion in ways I had not been taught before.

My world view was altered by seeing—both by sight and new understanding—what it took for this nation to go from peril to promise, and by viewing that not from a textbook but from my vantage point of standing in the actual Promised Land.

“If we could take just a little of that back home,” I thought, and then realized I could do just that by truly assimilating profound personal lessons about how I choose to live my life, such as being better at withholding judgment, demonstrating greater empathy, having deeper compassion, overcoming or effectively resolving conflict, and modeling respect for humankind.

Thank you to The Jewish Federation for this incredible trip and thank you to my newfound family for teaching me lessons I never expected, but am grateful, to have learned.05A57C6A-6AA4-4666-BBE8-08DF789F1953

“All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.” – Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire everyone to Take Action.”

The author’s encouragement about the importance of knowing why we do what we do has been on my mind as we enter the final months of the school year and the last quarter of the fiscal year at the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

The EFSC team members are engaged in a flurry of activity, checking lists to reconfirm that things are in order to close one chapter and open the next.

We easily could lose sight of WHY as we become enveloped by time-sensitive tasks that require focusing on what, when and how. But it is essential to keep our compass pointed at the North Star—our organization’s WHY—as our primary purpose.

Getting distracted from WHY by a series of required tasks is something that can happen in families, private sector corporations and nonprofit organizations.

The concern about falling into that habit is that when we lose sight of WHY, our passion starts to fade. Our work and our lives no longer feel inspired and can start to feel mundane. WHY stems from our values, passions and aspirations. We can’t motivate or lead others if we lose enjoyment and fulfillment in WHY we get up every day and do what we do.

My thoughts are inspired by a convergence of incidents. In studying relatable aspects of leadership in my Leadership Florida class, I have been reminded about Sinek’s insights in “Start with Why,” in which he writes about the importance of keeping focused on the desired outcome of our activities.

At the same time, we are developing and creating the EFSC’s blueprint for the future. It has been an extensive, exhaustive and worthwhile effort and we have gained invaluable input that has helped us to affirm and clarify our organization’s WHY.

Asking WHY is a critical-thinking exercise that anyone can employ from time to time to nudge ourselves to answer questions such as those Sinek poses: “Why do we get up every day?” “Why does it matter?” “Why should anyone care about our organization?”

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman said: “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”

The power of WHY for us at the EFSC is illuminated and affirmed in stories of students. While we could sum up WHY by saying we get up every day and help support over 43,000 students, a large number easily can become a statistic and abstract sea of faces.

In coming weeks, several STRIVE award students will be telling their own stories about why and how they overcame challenges to stay on track and graduate from high school. The EFSC has the privilege of presenting their STRIVE awards but the students and our organization recogni ze that it was due to the support of many organizations and individuals that believed in and lifted them up that the students were able to reach their goal.

These students are not just a component of an abstract enrollment number. They are individual students who represent our WHY.

They are WHY we open Student Success Centers in high schools, fund classroom and schoolwide grants, and work with volunteers to develop a mentoring program. They are WHY we come together with partnering organizations, such as the Local College Access Network, to magnify our work and help more students.

Periodically asking WHY can help all of us stay focused on the thing that inspires us and, in turn, motivates and inspires those around us and keeps what we do aligned with our values and beliefs.

Do you know your WHY?

At this time of year, it’s a safe bet holiday wish lists will include technology, electronic or digital devices for most everyone from toddlers to grandparents.

After all, look at everything today’s smart gadgets do for us: They guard our homes, exercise our bodies and minds, provide entertainment, pay our bills, order our groceries, get us to our destination–and the list continues.

No question about it: These devices are fun, informative, integrated and engaging.

But some experts caution those compelling games, apps, videos and programs that play on tablets, TVs, laptops and cell phones also have the potential to become addictive. New evidence is emerging about screen time’s effect on a young person’s developing brain. Studies from respected sources, such as Psychological Science and Pew Research, show that heavy tech users have a higher risk for depression and anxiety, and frequent social media use can rewire children’s brains to seek immediate gratification.

Physicians, behavioral experts, educators, child advocates and even tech developers are voicing concerns about too much screen time. Some Silicon Valley tech executives have gone so far as to ban technology use by their own children.

We all understand technology is here to stay and those neat gadgets and tools enhance our lives in numerous ways. I know I would be lost, literally, without my GPS and appointment reminder.

Effectively harnessing the influence of technology and balancing its use with hands-on, real-world and personal interactions are keys to turning a potential negative into a proven positive.

For example, technology in the classroom is an effective tool when combined with interactive exercises developed by creative, innovative teachers. And playing a video game at home can be relaxing and fun as long as it’s balanced with personal interactions, such as playing softball with friends and board games with the family.

We believe it’s important for families to understand about the dangers of unbridled technology use so they can promote healthy and safe habits for their children.

We want our students to know about the latest scientific evidence and the potential negative impact of poor tech habits so they are equipped to make good choices in using devices.

Making wise choices and developing healthy habits are parts of an array of social-emotional behaviors that are proven to help students succeed in school and later in college, on the job and in life. Young people who apply healthy and mature social-emotional behaviors to tech management are more likely to use good judgment and exercise self-discipline in the content they share, the sites they visit and the time they spend on devices scrolling, texting, gaming, posting and learning.

Most children function better within a structured environment and can understand a parent’s responsibility to monitor screen time usage and social media to ensure the child’s well-being. Parents who want to take the opportunity to open a discussion about healthy screen habits when giving a tech gift can find tools and tips at www.screenagersmovie.com. The website is related to an award-winning film, “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age,” created by physician and filmmaker Dr. Delaney Ruston.

Practical ideas from Dr. Ruston include having weekly short, calm conversations with your family about technology and establishing times when tech is out of sight to help children focus and develop self-control. A weekly blog, Tech Talk Tuesday, available on the website, offers good discussion starters.

Don’t be surprised to find that following a structure that minimizes multi-tasking and devotes focused time to homework and personal interactions will free up time for unhindered enjoyment of favorite tech gadgets.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County team wishes you and yours a joyful holiday season.

The fall season brings a minor but welcome drop in temperature to our area, but it also brings an unwelcome anxiety spike for many high school students.

In recent conversations with a couple of our professional partners, we shared our observations that more students seem to be experiencing higher levels of anxiety this fall than in previous years.

It’s no wonder that high school seniors, in particular, exhibit signs of increased stress. After all, they are preparing for a big life change in moving from a familiar high school campus to the adult world. Other factors contribute to pressures piling up on these students, and unfortunately, some worries, such as the nuances triggered by their social relationships, aren’t completely within parents’ and teachers’ ability to resolve.

But what can adults who care about our stressed-out students do to alleviate some of those other pressure points?

Consulting with my friendly experts, we drew up a list of frequent stress triggers and tips for helping students and their families cope during the senior stress season and emerge in good health—physically, mentally and emotionally.

1. Recognize that pressure, often inadvertent, comes from parents, peers, counselors, teachers and even students’ expectations of themselves. Parents can lighten the pressure by actively encouraging and empowering students through the process.

2. Watch for red flags in behaviors that signal help is needed for students in these and similar situations: a student from a high-achieving family who’s afraid he’ll “let down” his family if he isn’t accepted into the “right” college; a student who fears her university-bound friends will leave her behind if she goes to technical college; and the student who’s not sleeping because he’s working a part-time job, volunteering in the community and trying to earn top grades to qualify for a scholarship.

3. Be mindful of and help your student prepare for deadlines. The college application deadline was Nov. 1 for the University of Florida and Florida State University. Upcoming deadlines are Nov. 15 and Jan. 1 for other colleges, and some, including State College of Florida and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, have rolling admission. The application period opened Oct. 1 for FAFSA and Bright Futures Scholarships—both important sources of free funds for postsecondary education, and no funds will be awarded if the student doesn’t apply.

4. Assist with completing complex applications. The college admission process has grown more complex, time-consuming and individualized per institution. There is no “one” template that can be used for every application, and it is easy to be denied admission because a custom requirement was overlooked. Parents who don’t feel qualified to provide direct assistance can direct their students to resources at schools, such as the Student Success Centers at Riverview High School and North Port High School, the College Resource Center at Booker High School or the Rotary Futures Center at Venice High School just to name a few.

5. Help students focus and prioritize postsecondary options. It’s tempting to say, “The world is your oyster” and advise a young adult to explore all opportunities. But it takes a lot of time to complete applications for college, job training programs, financial aid and scholarships, and the senior year of high school is when students need to zero in on short lists. By talking with students, parents can help them figure out what’s most important for their postsecondary education. If college is their choice, what will make a certain college a good fit? Academic reputation? Social life? Size of campus? Internships? Study-abroad programs?

6. Most importantly, keep open the lines of communication. Students are vulnerable to internalizing stress until anxiety builds to unhealthy levels and they shut down. Parents can increase their students’ self-confidence with encouraging assurances such as: “I know you’re giving it your best.” “We’re here for you.” “You’ve got this.” “Just breathe.”

For additional information on tips and checklists, visit LaunchYourPlan.com.

Special acknowledgment to Peni Riedinger and Debra Landesberg for contributing to this article.

Lately, my mind has wandered to pondering the status of “middles” in our world, e.g., the middle class, middle management, middle income workers, middle children, reliable average citizens and the great sea populated by moderates and the mainstream.

It seems that, at every turn, our attention is demanded by extremes—the super-achievers and the low-performers at work, in sports, schools, social settings, entertainment—and spread too thin to focus equitably on the consistent average.

Our lingo demonstrates the trend. It seems that hearing “job well done” for showing up and competently carrying out a task isn’t an adequate accolade. Now everyone has to be a “rock star” to feel the love.

I have personal experience with this. When our household grew to three kids, my husband and I immediately grasped that we were outnumbered 3:2. Where were a third set of hands and extra pair of eyes when we needed them?

When children outnumber parents, multiple conflicts present themselves. As hard as we tried to give our children equal attention, we had to choose and rotate whose parent-teacher conference, school open house, ball game and concert to attend.

I recall many times being thankful for the child who was compliant, responsible, quiet and mannered when my attention and support were directed to the child who had the greater need at the time.

Then, one day, it occurred to me to wonder what I might have missed because of my middle child’s minimal demands. Had I unintentionally overlooked her needs or failed to support her to the best of my abilities because I was focused on the others?

It was a wake-up call to be more intentional in interacting with each of my children, no matter the demands or lack thereof. Sure enough, I learned the demands were there, just quietly hidden and tucked away in a compliant nature.

Thankfully, our second-born child is a well-adjusted young adult and doesn’t exhibit any signs of feeling overlooked. But the experience has parallels to the waning voices of those in the middle class and mainstream, the solid citizens and the average students.

How does this relate to the work of the Education Foundation?

All children have needs, whether the setting is in a large family, a team on the field, or a school classroom. In our noble quest to provide equitable support to each and every student, as we continue encouraging those who are high achievers and low performers, do we also need to pause and ask ourselves how we are carrying out our responsibility to those in the middle? Are we unintentionally overlooking the needs of the quiet, average student?

Is it possible that the student in the middle is fading into the background? Do we find that we save our fanfare for students at the extremes and give token recognition to students who fall squarely in the middle, those who habitually turn in their homework and are punctual, respectful, and compliant?

This is not to suggest that support for any child should be diminished to help another child. Rather, while focusing (appropriately) on the bottom 25 percent quartile and our top-performing gifted and talented students, we want to ensure that we aren’t missing the mark when it comes to helping the 65 percent of students in the middle who cause the least disruption and require the least intervention but who might give us the highest return with slightly more attention.

It can be challenging to examine the inadvertent results of our actions, especially when our intentions are good. But if we reframe our thinking about what equitable support means, perhaps we can change the paradigm from “equity for all students” to “equitable support for each and every child.”

Take a walk with me down memory lane to 1988.

George H.W. Bush was elected as the 41st president. Big with Tom Hanks and Die Hard with Bruce Willis were hit movies. The Dell Computer Corp. was incorporated. The Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine” played on the radio. The term “World Wide Web” made its way into conversation. Cameras required film. A portable cell phone cost $2,500 and stood 10 inches tall. The big hair look was in for women and an unfortunate number of men sported the mullet style.

In Sarasota, young comedian Jay Leno performed at the Van Wezel. The Sarasota Babe Ruth Little League All-Stars went to the World Series. And private citizen Shirley Ritchey, a woman with a strong will and stronger passion for public education, gathered a group of Sarasota-area business leaders and educators to lay the groundwork for an independent organization dedicated to supporting programs and services to benefit students and teachers of Sarasota County Schools.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County, as we know it today, traces its beginning to this grassroots effort led by Shirley and joined by leading citizens who served with commitment over the years.

Thanks to the continuing involvement of Shirley and early board members, the Education Foundation today is a nonprofit organization with the personality of a big supportive family that is celebrating our 30th anniversary year by honoring the past while looking to the future.

Since its inception, the Foundation provided programs and services that support and enrich the learning experience for students and teachers in our district. Here are a few highlights of how we have invested in our district over the first three decades:

The Foundation held the first teacher recognition event in 1989. We produced Academic Olympics in 1992 and Sarasota Thinks Festival in 1995. Our first annual “Evening of Excellence” was held in 1996. “Building Blocks for Success” grants were awarded in 1999. In 2003 we began a five-year literacy partnership with the Junior League. In 2009 we marked the 20th year of awarding “Edge of Excellence” classroom grants. We funded the first digital learning lab at Laurel Civic Association in 2013 and the first annual Hackathon was held in 2016.

And this year our College, Career, Life Readiness Initiative is taking off with the opening of new Student Success Centers, staffed by dedicated College Career Advisors provided by the Education Foundation, at North Port High School and Riverview High School.

With the passing of time we are glad to see some things fade—the mullet hairstyle, for one—and nostalgic for others. Along the way, we have said sad farewells to beloved friends and supporters, most recently James Ritchey, the husband and stalwart supporter of our founder, Shirley Ritchey.

As we honor the past with pride and respect, we are preparing toasts to a bright future for the Education Foundation and our students and teachers.

Change is inevitable and it seems fitting this anniversary falls at a time that arguably is the Education Foundation’s most transformative period since our founders experienced the thrill of beginning something important.

The Education Foundation’s many past accomplishments have been possible through the ongoing support of community and philanthropic partners, the cooperation of district leaders and the generosity of corporate and individual donors.

We continue to count on invaluable community backing as we adapt programs and services to meet the needs of a changing world and prepare our students to succeed in their own future plans.

It’s back to school time! When you hear that phrase, does it conjure up the daily school routines with which you and your family have become accustomed? Wake up. Make lunch. Drop off. Pick up. Do homework. Repeat. Do you find yourself already counting down to winter break or does the routine of school make things a little more structured for the household?

Before another year of school routines becomes the family norm, perhaps this is an ideal time to press pause on the autopilot button and push the lever of imagination and dialogue about the exciting, stimulating learning experiences we want for our children.

We live in a world that is changing at an accelerated rate. As I’ve stated before, it’s widely acknowledged that we are living in monumental transitory times. What will the world of tomorrow hold? Why does it matter? Why should we care?

The precious small children who are beginning kindergarten this school year will graduate high school in 2031 and they will be eligible to retire in 2080. That will be just 20 years from the dawn of the 22nd century.

How many of us can think that far ahead, much less plan? How can we reimagine schools for our future leaders when it’s difficult to imagine what a tomorrow that far in advance will look like?

It’s a stretch for many of us, but it is our duty to try, and here’s why: Throughout history, significant culture change has taken place when driven by critical communal needs.

The fact is that we are two decades into the 21st century but many of our institutions, including the interdependent systems of education and industry, were designed around the needs of earlier centuries.

Leaders from all sectors are sounding the alarm that America will lose its competitive advantage and young adults will find limited pathways for upward social and economic mobility without a concerted movement to equip students with skills to be innovators.

The Education Foundation, through its innovative initiatives, is among a growing number of forward-thinking leaders and institutions modeling the 21st century skills that we want our students to emulate:

  • Forming new collaborations among industry and sectors;
  • Taking calculated risks by putting ambitious, untried plans into motion;
  • Unlocking creative capacities to solve problems in unconventional ways;
  • Communicating across disciplines and sectors; and
  • Sharing and analyzing information about results of initiatives.

A. J. Juliani, an educator and well-known author of books about innovative teaching, said: “Our job is not to prepare students for something. Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.”

Our students deserve the opportunity to reimagine their aspirations and understand that achieving success in the future will look different from their parents’ experiences. As the organization exclusively dedicated to Sarasota County public education, the Education Foundation is poised to take the role of collaborative convener in working with a cross-section of the community including Sarasota County Schools leadership, youth-serving organizations, business professionals, and foundations that support educational initiatives.

Together, we will need to prepare our students with a life readiness mindset that will empower them for success in a future that promises to be anything but routine.