Say Yes to Education and America’s Promise Alliance

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Say Yes to Education and America’s Promise Alliance Join Forces to Help Communities Prepare All Students For Higher Education

Say Yes and APASay Yes to Education and America’s Promise Alliance, two nonprofit organizations with a half century of experience between them, today announced the formation of an institute that will bring together the best thinking, latest research and field-tested strategies to support communities seeking to help more students get on a path to success in higher education and beyond.

Inspired by and named for George Weiss, who founded Say Yes 30 years ago, the Weiss Institute will build on the work of its two founding and operating partners:

  • Say Yes to Education works with communities to boost postsecondary participation and success with a powerful incentive: the prospect of a college scholarship.
  • America’s Promise, which was created by all the living U.S. Presidents at a summit in 1997, is the nation’s largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth.

The announcement was made by the current and founding chairs of America’s Promise Alliance, Alma J. Powell and General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), joined by Weiss, the chair of Say Yes. They spoke at Recommit to Kids: The Summit for America’s Future, a New York City gathering marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance.

“At its essence, Say Yes has always been about giving hope to young people, including those who may be the first in their families to pursue a college degree,’’ said George Weiss, who began Say Yes with an initial promise to 112 rising seventh graders at a Philadelphia public school. “Through our new partnership with America’s Promise Alliance, we can make it possible for many more communities to provide many more young people -- hundreds of thousands of them, and someday, I hope, millions – with the wherewithal to afford college and the skills to succeed there.”

At the heart of the Say Yes strategy is a powerful incentive for families and communities: the prospect of a college scholarship. The organization’s scholarships – as well as academic and non-academic support services intended to ensure young people are able to seize that opportunity – are available to tens of thousands of students through community-wide partnerships in Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, and Guilford County (Greensboro-High Point), North Carolina.

“Together, America’s Promise and Say Yes to Education understand that we must focus not just on the compartmentalized world of classrooms but on the whole child,” said Alma Powell. “We must focus on whole communities, too, because that is where sustainable change happens. We’ve been so impressed by Say Yes’ ability to see the big picture and bring communities together for the long haul.”

The Weiss Institute will make it possible for communities to have the knowledge and tools to implement their own initiative to boost postsecondary attainment – informed not only by Say Yes’ experience in the field but by research from America’s Promise on the optimal conditions for student and community success.

The Center for Promise – the research institute for America’s Promise Alliance, housed at the Boston University School of Education – has become nationally known for its ability to learn by listening to, and empowering, young people and for its work on collaborative community initiatives.

Say Yes also announced today that it had received a commitment of a $5 million grant, to be payable over the next five years, from The Duke Endowment in Charlotte, North Carolina. Say Yes will use the grant to develop sustainable early childhood support systems in communities in North Carolina and South Carolina, the states where the Duke Endowment focuses its philanthropy, and to then link and align those early intervention systems to the broader efforts of Say Yes to support children along the pathway to postsecondary readiness, from prekindergarten through grade 12.

“We are excited to join forces with Say Yes to Education in the Carolinas,” said Rhett Mabry, president of The Duke Endowment. “Say Yes brings a proven track record of success when it comes to supporting students through high school and lowering the barriers to postsecondary education.  Its work aligns well with our deep commitment to improving the lives of children in the Carolinas.”

Drawing on the experience of both Say Yes and America’s Promise Alliance, the Weiss Institute will support communities in their efforts to:

  • Build the trust and civic infrastructure essential to reach new goals.
  • Identify and leverage existing strengths.
  • Establish community wide incentives to drive sustainable collaboration.
  • Eliminate or reduce predictable barriers to academic achievement.
  • Build a college-going culture and boost postsecondary degree attainment.
  • Improve community vitality and economic development.

Say Yes and America’s Promise are hopeful that the Weiss Institute’s offerings will prove especially helpful to some of the more than 200 cities and other municipalities that already provide college and other postsecondary scholarships to at least some of their high school graduates, under the auspices of so-called Promise programs, as well as others seeking to develop such initiatives.

Among its initial activities, the Weiss Institute will:

  • Commission research to advance the understanding of how communities can most effectively support young people.
  • Organize and lead convenings around the nation where participants can learn about best practices from partner organizations, as well as each other.
  • Lead site visits to communities engaging in best practice.
  • Provide fee-for-service technical assistance to help communities create and implement strategies locally.
  • Increase awareness and encourage adoption of strategies that work.

At the outset, the Weiss Institute will be led by Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, the president of Say Yes to Education. Over the past five years, Schmitt-Carey, along with key strategic advisors, built the vision, strategy, and initial philanthropic support for this enterprise.

Led by its president and chief executive, John Gomperts, America’s Promise Alliance will work with Say Yes to recruit a larger team to bring to life the full potential of the Weiss Institute. Jonathan Zaff, executive director of the Center for Promise and a research associate professor in the School of Education at Boston University, will lead the Institute’s research work.

The Institute will begin as a formal division of Say Yes to Education, Inc., and have its main offices in the Say Yes offices in New York City. The Institute will benefit from the expertise and experience of the following partners: American Institutes for Research, Cross & Joftus, Partnership for Deliberate Excellence, National Equity Project, Schaffer Consulting, and Schoolhouse Partners.

For more information, visit weissinstitute.org.