Helios' Education Initiatives Still Going Strong with Pre-College and Pre-K Targets

It’s becoming more and more common in Arizona for public schools to partner with nonprofit organizations to help students prepare for college and perform well once they get there. Not only is the state’s nonprofit sector growing, but its economy is, too, which translates into lots of new job opportunities that require higher education.

“Arizona is poised to make large economic gains, with many experts saying the state will be a top producer of new jobs in the near future,” said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona. “However, many of the jobs projected to be added in Arizona will require some type of postsecondary training.”

A major player in this public education/nonprofit movement is the Helios Education Foundation, which has a program called the College Knowing and Going Initiative that so far involves 19 of the state’s 232 school districts. All juniors at the schools in these district take the ACT at no cost after receiving complimentary preparation for the test. According to a Helios brief titled “Building a College-Going Culture by Increasing Access to the ACT,” 20 percent of Arizona students took the ACT in 2013, compared to just 2 percent before the program began. Helios also partners with College Success Arizona to make college visits happen.

So in addition to these efforts, what else has the Helios Foundation been up to lately?

The funder has recently shown its support for very young students in addition to college-bound high schoolers. For example, the foundation announced a $720,000 grant for a dual-language learning research and practice program for children between ages three and five. Arizona State University is working with Childsplay and the Osborn Elementary School District on English-Spanish learning opportunities for Pre-K students. Research has shown that dual-language learning confers lifelong benefits and should be embraced instead of fixating on a single language.

“More than 43 percent of Arizona children under five are Hispanic, and many of these children come from homes where Spanish is the primary language,” said Dr. Karen Ortiz, vice president and program director of early grade success at Helios. “Our goal is to implement two-way immersion early learning opportunities, and learn how this helps with early literacy and language development for both Spanish and English speaking children.”

The grantees are using Helios funds to research the most effective dual-language programs and also to provide professional development activities for preschool teachers to incorporate both English and Spanish languages into lessons and playtime. Read the Helios blog post "Dual Language Programs: Paving the Way for Student Success" to learn more about the foundation’s approach to this issue.

And in other recent news, Helios just named a new vice president and director of policy, Janice Palmer. She comes from the Arizona School Boards Association, where she led governmental relations and public affairs. With someone from a position like that taking the lead, you might expect to see more advocacy efforts and public-private partnerships coming from Helios in the year ahead.

Keep in mind that Helios does not accept unsolicited requests for funding; instead, the staff seeks out potential partners. This foundation typically invests over $15 million each year for early grade success, college & career readiness, and postsecondary completion in Arizona and Florida. General questions can be directed to the Phoenix-based staff at 602-381-2260 or info@helios.org.

Related: IP's Profile of the Helios Education Foundation: Grants for Early Childhood Education