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Helios Foundation pledges $3.9 million to YUHSD college readiness program
Education is evolving at Yuma Union High School District schools to help students become better prepared for their future.
The Helios Education Foundation announced a five-year partnership with YUHSD Wednesday in the form of a $3.9 million grant, which the governing board approved at a meeting later that evening.
Antonia Franco, with community investment at Helios, said that given the statistic that almost 60 percent of students in Arizona require remediation upon entry into college, which is an increase of 20 percent from the nationwide statistic, their foundation is hoping that YUHSD will be a model for the rest of the state.
Funds given to YUHSD will help advance the district’s recent implementation of its Ready Now Yuma program with a focus on continuing to provide students with a rigorous curriculum while also providing necessary professional development for instructors.
The Cambridge curriculum, which YUHSD Superintendent Toni Badone described as being student-centered, requires teens to think more critically about content areas, draw conclusions and analyze data — not simply memorize information and take multiple choice tests.
"Helios’ leadership and investment in Ready Now Yuma will profoundly impact our students, YUHSD and the Yuma community overall," Badone added. "Our goal is to equip every student with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in college, career and life. By doing so, we will demonstrate that Yuma is a viable business environment with a stable and talented workforce pipeline."
For the past 18 months, Badone said, the district has partnered with Helios and the Center for the Future of Arizona, planning and working to effectively implement the Ready Now Yuma Program.
The intention is that the high expectations curriculum will also increase the number of students who not only enter but also succeed at the postsecondary level, said Vince Roig, founding chairman of Helios Education Foundation.
"The world is changing rapidly, it’s competitive and it will be unforgiving to those that we don’t prepare today. Our students must be ready now, we need Ready Now Yuma to be prepared to prepare our students to succeed in college and career," said Roig.
"Ready Now Yuma represents a cultural shift in the way we prepare students to compete and succeed in a global economy. Every YUHSD student, regardless of past academic performance or post-high school aspirations, will now receive a world-class education which prepares them for every future opportunity and puts them on-par with their national and international peers."
During the 2011-2012 school year, almost 3,000 freshman students and 100 teachers, counselors and administrators participated in the initial planning and pilot year of Ready Now Yuma.
Next fall, both freshman and sophomore students will be expected to participate in that same curriculum.
"The investment comes at a pivotal time for Yuma students as YUHSD, along with school districts across Arizona, are required to begin implementing the nationally and internationally bench-marked Common Core State Standards," stated Helios. "Arizona, in addition to 46 other states and the District of Columbia, adopted the higher-bar standards to improve the academic performance and college- and career-readiness of students to meet the higher expectations and needs of colleges and employers."
While the implementation of Common Core is not required to be in full effect until 2014, Helios officials say Yuma is ahead of the curve and will have an advantage over other districts across the state.
"We believe that this project is going to change the face of education not only here in Yuma but perhaps across the state and in other school districts across the nation," Roig said.
Marlie Meza, science department chairwoman at Yuma High School, said she remembers feeling anxious and apprehensive about the changes that were going to take place during the implementation year of Ready Now Yuma.
However, after learning about the resources that were available through Cambridge as well as the resources they gained from collaboration days between other teachers in YUHSD, she said they are now looking forward to the upcoming year.
"Teachers are excited about starting their second year of Cambridge. How often is it that you hear teachers saying I can’t wait for August?"
She added that the curriculum is not requiring more worksheets and homework of students, but a higher level of questioning which requires the students to apply what they have learned in the classroom.
"Yuma is no longer a blip on the map of education in Arizona. We are leaders, breaking new ground and paving the way for the future of education," Meza said.
The Class of 2015 will be the first group of students to graduate from YUHSD under the Ready Now Yuma program.
What is the Helios Education Foundation?
The Helios Education Foundation is focused on creating a high-expectations, college-going culture in Arizona and Florida by investing in initiatives that create opportunities for postsecondary education success. The foundation is contributing its leadership, expertise and financial resources to improve the academic performance of students, with an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), to better prepare students to compete and succeed in a globally competitive economy. Since 2006, Helios has invested over $115 million in education-related programs and initiatives in Florida and Arizona.
The foundation was created in 2004 through the conversion, reorganization and sale of Southwest Student Services Corporation (Southwest), and its affiliates Arizona Educational Loan Marketing Corporation (AELMAC) and Florida Educational Loan Marketing Corporation (FELMAC). Southwest was a full-service provider of student loan products and services to students, families and schools in Arizona, Florida and nationally. At the time of the reorganization, Southwest was the eighth-largest holder of federally insured student loans in the country. And upon its sale to SLM Corporation, the $500 million in net proceeds was used to create an endowment for Helios Education Foundation to support its work in creating opportunities for individuals to succeed in postsecondary education.
To learn more, visit http://www.helios.org.