United Way Partners with City of Orlando and OCPS in Innovative Pilot to Improve Local Schools


United Way staff and volunteers recently welcomed students back to Catalina Elementary, one of four local schools supported through a new program to improve students' academic achievement.

As part of its investment in education, United Way, in conjunction with the City of Orlando and Orange County Public Schools, recently launched an innovative program to move the needle on achievement at four local schools.

Known as the Interfaith School Turnaround Project (IFSTP), the initiative is a focused, community-centered effort to support students, parents and teachers in order to improve literacy skills, academic performance, behavior and civic involvement.

Early Reading Skills Affect Graduation Rates
“Research shows that for every 50 children who struggle to read in kindergarten, 44 will still have difficulty in third grade,” said Joan Nelson, United Way Vice President of Community Investment. “Without strong reading skills, these students typically fall further and further behind and eventually become four times more likely to drop out of high school.”

To combat this, United Way is recruiting hundreds of local volunteers from interfaith groups to tutor and mentor students at Richmond Heights, Palmetto and Catalina elementary schools, as well as Memorial Middle School.

Based on its efforts to improve education, United Way was chosen to serve as the lead agency for the pilot, which is part of the City of Orlando’s Cities of Service ORLANDO CARES initiative. The school program was designed by the White House Committee on Neighborhood and Faith-Based Partnerships, the U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

In addition, six VISTA/AmeriCorps volunteers are helping coordinate the project thanks to funding and in-kind support from CNCS, Orange County Public Schools and other community partners.

Volunteers Needed
“This project is a great example of what United Way and our partners are doing to improve education, which is the single most important factor in determining that children grow up to do as well or better than their parents,” Nelson said. “Volunteering doesn’t require any special skills or large commitment of time, just a compassionate heart and a desire to improve the life of a child.”

Are you interested in becoming school volunteer? Click here to get started.

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