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Priorities of U. fund designed for city education shift

This year was the first time the funds were awarded to individuals instead of local schools

Though College Hill houses a number of classes, Brown’s connection to education extends far beyond the confines of campus.

From tutoring programs to endowed funds, the University holds  long-standing ties to students across Providence. One such project, the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence, has awarded funds since 2009 to city elementary and high schools to improve education off the Hill. But after announcing in May a shifted emphasis on scholarships for college-bound Providence students, the fund awarded its last package of grants to three Providence schools.

 

Steering toward schooling

The fund, established in response to a 2006 report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, was aimed to implement the report’s recommendation that the University “help ensure a quality education for the children of Rhode Island.”

Former University President Ruth Simmons appointed the Steering Committee in 2003 to research and draft a report about the University’s past relationship to slavery. When it was issued three years later, the report narrated the history of slavery in Rhode Island in detail, concluding that the University’s early benefactors were enmeshed in the slave trade. In the report, the Committee created a list of recommendations for the University as a form of long-overdue restitution for the University’s participation in slavery. Among the recommendations was the suggestion of a fund to improve education for students in the state.

The Committee on the Fund is chaired by Chancellor Emeritus Artemis Joukowsky and composed of current and emeriti members of the Corporation who live in Providence. To be awarded the grant, schools’ applications must have demonstrated effective approaches to teaching and learning in the classroom, Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn wrote in an email to The Herald.

This year, the committee selected three grants out of a pool of 15 applications.

 

‘An amazingly real impact’

Of the applicants, Sophia Academy received $10,000 and Inspiring Minds and the Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program each received $20,000.

“The fund has allowed our school to play a large role in us rebuilding our technology infrastructure,” said Rob Deblois, director of UCAP. “A lot of great students don’t have computer or Internet access at home, so (the grant) is going to allow them to meet this requirement in their education.”

UCAP, a non-profit organization and public school, serves about 140 students, many of whom have repeated a year or are currently behind in their studies. UCAP allows them to complete more than one grade every year to advance to higher levels.

With the fund’s contribution, combined with awards from other foundations, UCAP will be able to purchase new computers for the school’s classrooms and labs, Deblois said. The school will also be able to obtain other technology supplies, like projectors for classrooms and MacBook Air computers for teachers, Deblois added.

Like UCAP, Sophia Academy, a small middle school for low-income girls from Providence, plans on using its grant to improve its technological infrastructure, said Head of School Gigi Dibello.

“This gift will go a long way to extending our resources,” Dibello said.

Inspiring Minds, an after-school program aimed to accelerate student learning through tutoring, will use the funds to support its work at the Asa Messer Elementary School in downtown Providence.

The program already has ties to Brown — undergraduates helped found the Inspiring Minds program in 1963 by reading to disadvantaged students after school.

“The fund is making an amazingly real impact,” said Eleanor Acton, the development and communications director at Inspiring Minds. “Kids need one-on-one individual attention at an urban school, and the fund is helping us provide it.”

Strategic switch

This May, the University announced it would begin awarding individual scholarships for graduating Providence high school seniors instead of giving broad school grants. The fund, which initially carried out its mission only by funding specific school programs, marked the announcement with 20 initial awards to college-bound students this year.

The 20 scholarship recipients each received $2,500 from the fund and were selected based on merit and financial status. Most of the recipients represent the first generation in their families to attend college, according to a University press release. The decision to sponsor the scholarships followed careful analysis, with direct feedback from the Superintendent of the Providence Schools Susan Lusi and Mayor Angel Taveras, Quinn said.

Though it has already accrued $1.5 million, the fund was originally intended to maintain a $10 million permanent endowment. That financial goal, along with the fund’s original mission of supporting Providence education, still remains, Quinn said.

“We’re hoping that, through inspiring stories of individuals who go into higher education, there (will) be even greater interest in supporting the fund,” Quinn said.

“There’s been a lot of support with the move toward scholarships,” Quinn added. “The decision is keeping with the original intent of the fund itself — to continue to support students who see education as a pathway of strengthening and improving their lives.”

But the transition away from school grants removes support for potential initiatives in Providence education that are innovative in nature, some grant recipients said.

“These are two very good uses for the money,” Deblois said, referring to the school grants and individual scholarships. “That said, I would also like to have money available for special initiatives in programs after school, and I’m sure other people involved in other specific schools or programs would feel the same way.”

“One of the things that I feel is very precious is dollars for public education — entrepreneurial capital — money to initiate what might be different or unusual,” Deblois added.

Christina O’Reilly, director of communications at Providence Public Schools, said though the fund has stopped providing grants, Providence school programs can apply to other grants from organizations like Aramark or the Sodexo Foundation.

“We are aligned with Paxson’s vision to transition to direct support to students,” O’Reilly said. “We have every confidence that Brown will continue to demonstrate their support for our city and for our city’s students.”

Regardless of its focus, the fund’s mission will continue.

“Whichever way they go, I’m sure it’s helpful for the children of this city,” Acton said. “We think the fund has had great impact, and we’re very grateful for it.”



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