A Funder Works to "Stabilize" Schooling for Low-Income Kids in Boston's Suburbs

The Boston Foundation’s education grantmaking has long revolved around Boston’s K-12 schools. Recent foundation grants, for example, have gone to a nonprofit school turnaround organization called Unlocking Potential to open the U.P. Academy, a Horace Mann, in-district charter school, and the NewSchools Venture Fund to support the replication of high-performing charter schools.

But lately, TBF has been setting its gaze a little further and taking more notice of needs outside the city limits.

Just before 2014 came to a close, TBF announced a one-year $100,000 grant to the Chelsea Education Foundation for its Five District Partnership of the Chelsea Public Schools. This grant money will be used in the communities of Chelsea, Revere, Malden, Everett, and Winthrop, all on the outskirts of Boston, where more than 28,000 public school students get their education.

Why these particular communities instead of inner-city public schools?

Because these days, close-in suburbs increasingly have the same problems found in urban cores. That's true in Boston, but also in many other U.S. cities, where gentrification has pushed low-income families out of neighborhoods within an easy commute of downtown jobs. As well, more immigrants nowadays bypass the cities and head straight for the suburbs. 

All of which helps explain why lots of low-income, immigrant, and transient families now live in suburban Boston—with many frequently moving from one school district to another in search of more affordable housing.

Moving from school to school isn’t just a social adjustment for these kids; it’s also a major contributing factor to the achievement gap of students of color, a problem that the Gates Foundation, among other funders, has been working on. In fact, it's not just the kids who move whose education is disrupted; it's other students in classrooms where peers are coming and going through the school year. 

Related - Can Gates Break Down the Silos Between Housing and Education?

While creating more affordable housing is an immensely vexing problem, finding ways to stop kids from getting jerked from school to school should be easier. 

“Our goal is to stabilize the educational experience," explained Mary Bourque, superintendent of the Chelsea Public Schools. “If you take a look at private or charter schools, when students change their residency, they don’t change their schools. We’re trying to have something as close to that as possible.”

The Chelsea Education Foundation will be splitting this $100,000 among its Teach Plus and Write Boston organizations to train teachers and improve student writing. Exactly how these programs will impact students who move around a lot on the outskirts of Boston is yet to be seen.

And not to worry, Boston Public School districts, you haven’t been left behind to fend for yourselves. In December 2014, TBF also announced a three-year, $600,000 commitment to the Boston Public School’s Human Capital Initiative, which is a teacher recruitment and evaluation tool. No writing focus here, but support for teacher training is strong and consistent.

Although K-12 schools remain TBF’s most common education funding priority, support for community colleges has been gaining steam as well. The foundation has been a leader in the Coalition for Community Colleges, a statewide coalition of business, civic and community organizations that’s making community colleges, stronger, relevant, and accountable. And the winner of the first annual Deval Patrick Award for Community Colleges, an award designed just for Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges, will be announced on February 5.

Related: IP's Profile of The Boston Foundation: Boston Area Grants