How concerned community members can impact a school

This post was originally published here.

Can a group of concerned citizens make a difference in a neighborhood high school? That’s the question that Social Venture Partners (SVP) asked in 2009. A network of local philanthropists, SVP wanted to pool their resources to aid students in an inner-city high school. They wondered: Could whatever they did be helpful? And could it be sustained and replicated?

They identified a visionary principal as he took the reins at Camelback High School (CBHS). Under his guidance they found ways to work together for the betterment of the students.

In CBHS’s early years, the school was popular among middle and upper-class families living in the Biltmore and Arcadia areas. Changes in the 1980s in the school’s draw area led to big changes in student demographics and problems at the school. The local community turned its back on the school. Until 2009.

Over five years, SVP members worked with the new principal to identify and provide key resources that would help improve the school’s culture and, ultimately, student achievement. SVP members donated money to implement a peer tutoring program, career expos and new after-school clubs. Impacts were swift and sizable. Test scores improved. Graduation rates improved, as did college acceptances. In only three years, students tripled the amount of scholarships earned.

At the end of SVP’s five-year commitment, some members stuck around to create the Camelback High School Community Network (CHSCN). This movement, now billed as Success is Mandatory, is continuing the programs built by SVP.

For example, since 2013, CHSCN members have donated funds to help graduating seniors pursue higher education. They saw that many students are interested – and fully capable – but that their finances would prove too big a barrier. The resulting scholarship program has to date awarded over $300,000 in scholarships to over 100 deserving, college-bound youth. A recent survey determined that they are thriving in their postsecondary programs.

Unfortunately, there are thousands more like them in schools all over Arizona. And most schools aren’t lucky enough to have a handful of generous benefactors to provide funds for college. Yes, there are other ways to cover the costs. Pell grants, private scholarships, loans. But for too many students, these often aren’t enough.

Given the right leadership and local support, what’s happened at CBHS could be replicated elsewhere. The idea now being pursued is to reinvigorate the school’s alumni association and have it take over the functions of the CHSCN over time.

Education is the key to a healthy society. Without an educated citizenry, everyone suffers. And in today’s complex and fast-moving economy, education beyond high school is more important than ever, be it via college or career and technical education programs. All high schoolers in our state deserve the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education without money stopping their progress. Those who work hard to improve themselves shouldn’t be hampered by what zip code they come from or how much their caregivers earn.

Of my philanthropic endeavors, this has been the most uplifting. It gives me hope for our future to see the grit, intelligence and determination of these Camelback students.

Bruce Hilby is a part of the Camelback High School Community Network. He has been working with the team at Camelback High since 2010. Hilby launched and manages the Success is Mandatory website and manages communications for the CHSCN, which includes organizing annual student dinners and raising scholarship funds.

Photo Caption: Bruce Hilby with Ana Perez (class of 2020) and Ezequias Fuentes (class of 2019), two DECA (CTE marketing and entrepreneurship class) students who are participating in a multi-year survey of the gap scholarship recipients to determine their success and interest in participating in the reinvigorated alumni association. 

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