Helios Education Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education

OVERVIEW: This funder's agenda is improving college access and success for students in Arizona and Florida. Helios concentrates its grantmaking in three main impact areas: early childhood education, grades 5-12, and college scholarships. Its college readiness grantmaking activities emphasize scholarships and college access networks.

IP TAKE: Nurturing a “college-going culture” is central to this funder’s approach. Its college readiness program has a heavy STEM emphasis and its postsecondary success program emphasizes multifaceted support to ensure students earn degrees and graduate career-ready. Eligible grantseekers must be based in Arizona or Florida or have programs operating in these states. Helios does not accept unsolicited LOIs.

PROFILE: The Helios Foundation was created with proceeds from the sale of Southwest Student Services Corporation, a student loan services firm. Its goal is to create greater opportunities for college access and success in Arizona and Florida. Large numbers of students in both states who enter college never complete a degree program. Helios seeks to change this dynamic by fostering what it calls a “college-going culture” in Arizona and Florida across both states. Since its beginning in 2004, the foundation has invested millions of dollars into its programs and initiatives.

Helios focuses heavily on strengthening student supports critical to college persistence and creating pathways aligned to high-demand careers, both of which increase the likelihood of degree completion. Its goal is “the successful completion of a postsecondary license, certificate or degree for every student, leading to meaningful career opportunities and a high quality of life.”

Helios grantmaking is limited to Arizona and Florida, and the foundation has offices in both states. Organizations seeking funding from Helios should be based in Arizona or Florida or have programs operating in these states. 

This funder recognizes that college preparation does not begin in high school, but is a process that begins early in a child's education. Helios concentrates its grantmaking in three main impact areas: Early childhood education, College and Career Readiness, and Postsecondary Completion. 

Helios' early ed program, Early Grade Success, focuses on three main goals:

  • Foster Collaborative and Sustainable ECE Systems through "support and alignment for shared goals, collective processes, aligned measurement  and reporting systems, and cross-sector coordination resulting in high quality teachers and early learning environments."
  • Improve Access and Quality of Early Childhood Professional Development, which is "focused on emergent literacy and language acquisition skills and knowledge as well as classroom application by teachers, administrators and practitioners working with children birth through age eight."
  • Bridge Early Childhood and K-3 Education through collaboration and vertical curriculum alignment, "with an emphasis on emergent literacy and language acquisition."

In terms of College and Career Readiness (targeted at what Helios calls the “transition years”), the emphasis is on “the transition from middle to high school,” which it identifies as “set[ting] the stage for success in postsecondary education.” This program also has a three-point strategy: 

  • Improving STEM, especially in terms of ensuring an “academic rigor and relevance” that will prepare students for postsecondary success
  • Teacher attraction, training, and retention
  • Fostering the “college-going culture” mentioned earlier by getting all stakeholders—families, schools, and community members—invested in ensuring that students realize their academic potential.

After they leave high school, students can benefit from initiatives supported by Helios's Postsecondary Completion program, which gives towards academic support, scholarship programs and career guidance.

Helios Foundation grants mostly support programs geared at low-income, at-risk students. The foundation helpfully provides an Investment History page with a searchable database of past giving and a pie chart that breaks down funding by giving area.

Helios Foundation grants in postsecondary success mostly support scholarships and other activities geared at access and retention for low-income, at-risk students. The foundation helpfully provides an Investment History page with a searchable database of past giving and a pie chart that breaks down funding by giving area.

Organizations not known to the Helios Foundation may face barriers obtaining funding because it does not accept unsolicited proposals. Also worth noting is that the foundation “does not support capital campaigns, nor will it provide support to schools for general operating funds, teacher recruitment, professional development or classroom materials unless related to a specific program or initiative to be funded.”

However, because Helios actively supports the college access networks in Florida and Arizona, organizations working in the college access and readiness arenas in either state should become involved with the network to help gain the the foundation’s attention.

PEOPLE:

  • Karen J. Ortiz, Ph.D., Vice President and Program Director, Early Grade Success
  • Stacy Carlson, Vice President and Program Director, College and Career Readiness

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