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Groups unite to help schools
Learn4Life Columbus out to fill kids’ nonacademic needs
Saturday, May 21, 2011
by Jennifer Smith Richards
More than a dozen businesses and philanthropic groups already are working to improve Columbus schools — on their own.
Now, a new nonprofit group will help them join forces to make sure their efforts are working and their money is well-spent. The group, Learn4Life Columbus, was created to help the groups address nonacademic barriers to students’ success, from preschool to college.
It will be led by Steve Votaw, who for the past 18 years has been CEO of Directions for Youth and Families, a Columbus nonprofit group that works with troubled families and at-risk kids. He begins his new job July 5.
Those involved think the individual organizations’ efforts will be more effective if they share a goal and learn, together, what works for Columbus children and what doesn’t.
“We aren’t working together as collaboratively as we can,” said Chad Jester, president of the Nationwide Insurance Foundation. “We’re addressing the needs in various segments. That might be by age or geographically where the children are.”
His group, along with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the Columbus Foundation, the AEP Foundation and the Columbus Education Foundation, are providing the nearly $700,000 in start-up money for Learn4Life Columbus.
“We are not winning the war when it comes to making sure our at-risk youth have a successful future,” Jester said.
Groups throughout the city already are on board: the Columbus Partnership, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus State Community College, Ohio State University, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the United Way of Central Ohio, Battelle, the Crane Group, the Human Services Chamber and Community Research Partners.
Gene Harris, the superintendent of Columbus City Schools, said she thinks that the community can help students be more successful and ensure that they graduate from high school and then college.
“It’s always exciting to know that the community sees the children as their children,” she said. “I am not in any way, shape or form trying to give someone else my responsibility. But I also know that there are additional elements that need to be addressed.”
Learn4Life has not yet picked which nonacademic or social issues will be its focus. Votaw said the group will start its work by conducting research to find the greatest areas of need.
“It’s what the community is supposed to be doing. The schools can’t be responsible for everything that affects a child. There are family issues, community issues, poverty issues,” Votaw said. “What we’re trying to do is engage the whole community so we can create a better path for kids to be successful.”