Equity For All Fund

 

Overview

The Education Collaborative of Western New York (EdCo) is a consortium of 13 independent high schools in the Western New York region. EdCo’s three overarching strategic goals are to: Promote private education and EdCo schools; to support EdCo schools’ progress on diversity, equity and inclusion and to help partner schools build internal capacity to serve students better.  EdCo, it’s partner schools and Buffalo Prep have been working collaboratively since 2019 with support from The John R. Oishei Foundation and the Cullen Foundation to establish a long-term initiative that develops equitable and inclusive environments allowing all students’ every opportunity to thrive both socially and academically with the ultimate goal of every student feeling a strong sense of belonging in their school. 

 

The Equity for All Fund was developed in response to our collective work in understanding spaces within our buildings where students are not always able to fully feel a sense of belonging and the increased awareness of the socioeconomic pressures that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Our project is based on the premise that not all students in EdCo schools have the ability to immerse themselves in a full high school experience due to financial constraints.  The city of Buffalo has a poverty rate of 30.26% with an average household income of $52,943. Though scholarships and tuition assistance at EdCo partner schools are accessible to many families, where the average cost of tuition is $12,600 per year. Our partner schools work tirelessly to keep the cost of tuition affordable, yet even with their best efforts, some students/families struggle to cover the additional fees and costs associated with participation in daily student life.

 

The shared goal of EdCo partners schools is to educate students in welcoming institutions where they feel valued and respected for their diversity of talent, experience, and background so they become active and engaged citizens prepared for success in a global community. It is with this goal in mind that the leaders of EdCo’s partner schools came together to create the first shared fund for the purpose of addressing the gaps in financial need.

 

The Need

 

Through EdCo’s continuing Belonging Through Equity and Inclusion (BEI) work we have learned that many students from low-income households do not feel a sense of belonging in their school because financial constraints prohibit them from enjoying the benefits and full participation in the experiences normally associated with attending an independent high school. The Equity For All Fund is intended to be a temporary financial gap fill while we continue to work closely with school administrators within our consortium to establish a sustainable and permanent solution to meet the needs of the most vulnerable students and families within each school community.

 

For many students’ fees and costs beyond tuition cause undue emotional burden and often limit their ability to successfully participate in their school. Our goal is to remove financial obstacles that affect a student’s ability to succeed academically, to fully participate in the rigorous school experiences considered benefits of an independent high school education or that limit a student’s ability to become a well-rounded and competitive applicant to higher education programs.  Funds will help cover the cost of food, textbooks, technology fees, exam or college application fees, transportation to/from school, school trips, mandatory fundraising commitments, equipment and/or uniforms necessary to participate in sports, or fees to attend social events such as proms or dances. Funds can also provide parents and guardians without a personal vehicle funds for transportation to attend parent teacher conferences and other important school events.

 

Food insecurity tends to be a continued source of concern for many students in our schools as most EdCo schools do not maintain nutritional programs subsidized by federal and state free and reduced lunch programs. While schools do provide assistance for breakfast and lunch options, we continue to discover students who are unaware of available assistance and go hungry throughout the school day.  The Equity for All program will provide a dignified path for students and families to self-identify their needs as well as work to meet those needs in partnership with the schools.

 

EdCo will work in partnership with our schools to meet our first year (2021-2022) fund goal of $250,000.00.  Once the program is initiated in Fall 2021, parents, and students from any EdCo school will be able to apply for funds to help cover fees that fall outside of the purview of “tuition.” A committee of EdCo staff members, school representatives and community members will review applications on a rolling basis. Funds will have a set financial limit of $500.00, but will require the students' school to match any assistance provided through the Equity for All Fund.  For example, if a student requests $1,000 for school meal assistance, the school would apply $500.00 to the student's lunch account and the Equity for All Fund would apply $500.00 to the account. 

 

Overall Goals

 

Our overarching goal is to improve the social, emotional, and academic experience of all students who attend our schools.  Research tells us that when a student feels a strong sense of belonging at an educational institution, their ability to succeed is exponentially elevated.  Through our BEI initiative we have discovered that many students do not feel a sense of belonging because they cannot fully participate as a student due to financial barriers that are attached to various activities, which may or may not exist in other educational institutions.  

 

Directly related to the overarching goal, is to identify all real and perceived financial barriers that hinder a student from feeling a sense of belonging.  We know that many students do not pursue financial aid or assistance once they have been accepted to our schools for various reasons.  Our hope is that by providing a dignified path to self-reporting need, students and families will help us better understand who needs assistance, what their need is, and how we can best meet their needs. 

 

Finally, our third goal is to collect and analyze data generated by the Equity for All Fund to identify both short-term and long-term strategies so that any need is easily identified and met by schools in ways that do not negatively impact a student or family’s dignity and thus their mental well-being.

 

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