On Tuesday, November 21, the Greenwich United Way Community Planning Council hosted its monthly discussion forum which focused on youth and featured a conversation with Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jill Gildea. According to the Greenwich United Way’s Needs Assessment, the community places a high priority on meeting the needs of Greenwich youth. Greenwich has approximately 17,000 children under the age of 20 or 28% of the population. Over the past 10 years, closing the Achievement Gap has been cited as one of the most pressing needs in the Assessment.
In Greenwich, approximately 5% of the population is below the federal poverty level, 15% of students qualify for subsidized lunches, and 20% of the population cannot cover the cost of all household expenses. The Achievement Gap closely correlates with many risk factors, including stress and trauma in the home arising from poverty, food insecurity, and family instability.
Dr. Gildea became Superintendent in July 2017. Highlights from her presentation included her favorable opinion of the quality of educational offerings and the great staff in Greenwich. She cited the District’s innovative programs, the wide variety of extracurricular activities, and the engagement of families as some of the strengths she has observed. Following a review of the District’s facilities, recommendations were made for a significant increase in funding to maintain and renovate the District’s schools. Dr. Gildea noted that personalized learning will be at the heart of the District’s strategy to address the Achievement Gap. She explained that the focus will be on an individual student’s growth, rather than that student’s deficits. She noted that the Greenwich United Way Reading Champions program is an example of this approach.
The Greenwich United Way’s Reading Champions program has trained volunteer tutors that work to tailor reading fluency lessons to their individual students’ needs. As a result, the children selected for the program have seen significant gains. Dr. Gildea noted that early intervention and access to high-quality pre-school are also critical to narrowing the Achievement Gap. She noted that the District is partnering with the Greenwich United Way on its early childhood intervention and education program. The Town’s Department of Human Services has recently issued a report on the Achievement Gap, recommending early intervention. The District is also introducing a new model for staff professional development, which will also focus on personalized learning to address a teacher’s specific needs. An example of this is the District’s partnership with Teacher’s College at the middle schools, whereby teachers focus on a particular professional development need. These teachers have access to the Teacher’s College staff to help them achieve their needs.
A variety of innovative programs to engage students and meet the educational needs of a variety of students are also being supported by the District. A good example of this approach is the Engineering Design class for 5th graders that is a multi-disciplinary approach. At Greenwich High School, Innovation Lab is another example of this approach. Innovation Lab is a problem-based learning model that has been very successful, with the first class of students to graduate in 2019. “We are very committed to being part of the progress among youth in Greenwich through our literacy program”, said Greenwich United Way CEO, David Rabin. He continued, “I’m happy to announce that in the New Year we’ll advance our efforts with the start of a new Early Childhood Achievement Gap program. This new program will help at-risk children enter kindergarten on a level playing field. Our program is proactive and falls under the new Direct Impact Program platform our organization is in the process of launching. It uses home visitation and pre-school instructional coaching and targets families with children ages three to five.”
The next Community Planning Council meeting is on Tuesday, January 16, and the topic is, Mental Illness: Stress and Anxiety in our Youth. Visit the Greenwich United Way on Facebook (facebook.com/