The Power of Partnerships: Schools Today Are Turning to Banks, Supermarkets, High-Tech Companies, Manufacturers, and Even Hollywood for the Resources They Need to Implement Technology, Mentor Students, and Provide a Host of Enrichment Services

By Gonsalves, Antone | Technology & Learning, February 2003 | Go to article overview

The Power of Partnerships: Schools Today Are Turning to Banks, Supermarkets, High-Tech Companies, Manufacturers, and Even Hollywood for the Resources They Need to Implement Technology, Mentor Students, and Provide a Host of Enrichment Services


Gonsalves, Antone, Technology & Learning


Across the nation schools are reeling from news of planned funding cuts as state lawmakers struggle with record-setting budget deficits. Moreover, with No Child Left Behind's lack of a protected "bucket" of funds for education technology and a growing number of resources dedicated to high-stakes testing, the rewards of a well-planned business partnership hold more allure than ever for schools.

Indeed, the facts support this. A survey conducted by the National Association of Partners in Education * found that 70 percent of all U.S. school districts today are participating in some form of business partnership, an increase of 35 percent since 1990. Collectively, these partnerships contribute about 109 million volunteer hours and $2.4 billion yearly to schools, which constitutes a 102 percent increase in the last 13 years.

Commitment from the Top

Although the rewards of a solid business partnership can be significant for schools and districts, those with experience in forging successful long-lasting relationships caution that such benefits do not come long-term success starts with a major commitment up front on the part of both school and business leadership. Aligning values and philosophies and setting goals and objectives that are mutually beneficial is key (see "Partnerships: Tips for School and Business Leaders," page 17). "If it's one sided, then the partnership will eventually die out, says Scott Harriman, manager of the Cumberland County Teachers Federal Credit Union in Portland, Maine.

The credit unions partner in education is Harrison Lyseth Elementary School (lyseth.portlandschools. org), whose largely middle-class, nonminority student population reflects the traditional character of the region. This unique partnership, designed to promote smart lifelong financial habits, consists of a credit union branch that's open every Friday on the school premises for the children to deposit their pennies or withdraw a bit of cash--all with parental permission, of course. With only a dollar, the credit union allows the kids to open an interest-bearing account and watch it grow. "It's very difficult to teach your children to save. We all know they know how to spend," remarks Sylvie Montello, partnership coordinator for the school.

The credit union also performs a more integral educational function at Harrison Lyseth. Kindergartners tour the bank to view the safe and cameras and find out how these and other technologies operate. Third-graders learn about balancing their checkbooks, and fifth-graders are taught about the differences between interest-bearing accounts and checking accounts. "The kids get a bit of information, but not so much that it's overwhelming," says Montello.

Mentor Power

At Harrison Lyseth, mentoring has proven a powerful intervention solution for at-risk students and also a successful means of uniting community efforts to assist education. The town's two supermarkets, tierce competitors outside school, both send volunteers every week to participate in a mentoring program. Volunteers work with one or two children, helping with schoolwork or just listening. Mentored students are usually those having trouble in the classroom for any of a variety of reasons--from shyness to lack of skills to family problems. Attesting to the program's success is the substantial waiting list. "All kids love to have someone pay attention to them, and the teachers are thrilled with the program," Montello says. "They see a big difference in the children's lives, and the students are always anxious for their mentors to show up. When you have kids with positive attitudes, it makes a difference."

The business reaps rewards as well. Word-of-mouth kudos from teachers and parents and what Harriman describes as "great press" have been wonderful public relations for the credit union. In addition, the work with the school fits the credit union's mission of contributing to education and helping teachers financially. …

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