Greenville Organization Supports Education
Aug. 17, 2023
Educating South Carolina’s children is important for the state. The nonprofit Public Education Partners (PEP) works alongside Greenville County Schools to support that goal.
Catherine Schumacher, president and CEO of the organization, shares how the important work the organization does makes a difference for children in the Upstate.
What does PEP do?
We were founded in 1985 by business leaders to create a private-public partnership because they knew that Greenville could be something more and the school district needed support to be part of making that that happen. So we were created as an independent nonprofit to walk alongside Greenville County Schools, which is the largest district in the state. Today we function as an innovation lab for the district and a champion for public schools and public education in general.
Our mission is to lead the community to act collectively to strengthen, support and advance student achievement and public education in Greenville County Schools.
What do you mean by “innovation lab”?
We use data and research to identify critical issues and opportunities in public schools across K-12. We research best practices and ideas that might be working in other communities that we could test here, and also work with the district to find resources and support it needs, especially for classroom teachers. We will co-design programs with the district to address those opportunities. One of those programs is the Make Summer Count program.
What is the Make Summer Count program?
It is an award-winning summer literacy initiative. It was designed to build critical elementary literacy skills by making sure that kids from low-income families have access to books in the summer and that families learn how to support young readers. First, we help build home libraries by giving children a chance to pick out a selection of the books they want to read. The second part of the program models for parents and caregivers how to support student literacy. We show them how to read aloud with their children and how to coach the child in a way that aligns with how the district teaches reading. So the whole program is connected to the work the schools do everyday in classrooms. Twelve Title I schools are part of the core program, which kicks off with book celebrations every year before summer starts when every student in the school gets to take home the books they’ve selected. Then, we host Family Reading Nights where parents and caregivers come and children can select a few more books to take home.
How is the program doing?
This is our 10th year, and we are so proud that BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina has been part of it every year. We are grateful for that. In terms of impact, we did research in 2017 and found that 70 percent of the kids who participate in Make Summer Count maintain or increase their reading levels over the summer. We know this works.
Also, it is great to see how excited kids get when they see the stacks of books, when we do book fairs for Family Reading Nights or when the kids get backpacks of books at their school’s book celebration. We are so proud of the way in which we have built this into the spring traditions our Title I schools.
Why is this work important for Greenville?
Schools are critical infrastructure for our civic life, for our society, for our communities. Greenville is growing so rapidly, and a lot of it is because we have a really good school district. That doesn’t happen by accident, and PEP has been part of that journey. Schools are to our civic infrastructure what roads and bridges are to our public infrastructure. They are where tomorrow’s workforce is developed. The work we do here is innovative, and we are proud to be a model for other communities in the state.
What is a common misconception about public education?
A common misconception is that you should only care about schools if you have a student there. We all need to care about them. In Greenville, 85 – 90 percent of kids go to public schools. In Greenville County, that’s 78,000 students. It is everybody’s school system. It doesn’t just belong to the teachers and the families.
How does BlueCross support your work?
BlueCross has been supporting PEP for 20 years. We have someone from BlueCross on our board. We are grateful for those internal advocates who make such a big difference. BlueCross is the largest single sponsor of Make Summer Count, so we couldn’t do the program without it. We serve 6,000 kids every year with about 50,000 books.
Anything else you want people to know?
It is important to celebrate the good things that are happening in our public schools every day. The community is such an important part of that, and we encourage everyone to find a way to get involved.
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