Faith & Money

Monday, May 23, 2016

This month’s picture gives an overview of the Johnson Scholars Program in the School District of Palm Beach County. I wrote about this program in the Foundation Blog last week and, in light of our decision to merge it with Take Stock in Children, this seems a good time to review its history and success.

We began this program in 2008 after getting a first-hand look at a similar program that had been pioneered by the ECMC Foundation. Our experience underlines the benefits of copying good ideas that have proven themselves and also the benefit of personal connections. Our King Jordan was (and perhaps still is) on the Board of ECMC and was instrumental. In any event, we brought the idea to the Palm Beach District School Board and suggested that we would fund it if it would do the work. Since then the program has served nearly 500 students and awarded 240 students scholarships with a total value of more than $3 million.

The criteria for selection of Johnson Scholars is not based upon academic achievement. Ideal candidates are those who have the ability to graduate and attend college but are not headed in that direction. They are selected in grade 9 and are given 4 years of preparation in a peer cohort system supported by teachers and outside mentors. This program serves disadvantaged students; most of them will be the first in their families to attend college.

Preparation of Johnson Scholars is rooted in academic remediation and progress, but this is not an end in itself. Rather it is part of the process that leads Johnson Scholars to believe that a college degree and success in life is within their reach. Children of affluent or college educated parents grow up with this belief. Johnson Scholars must acquire it.

The promise of a scholarship is a show of faith in a student. It says that a prestigious Foundation is willing to invest its money because that student has what it takes to succeed. Teachers and mentors build on this faith. Students do their part by applying themselves. They see that their effort is rewarded by academic success and come to believe in their ability to succeed. This is the secret sauce that we have discussed. Student (and parent) interest is piqued by the offer of a scholarship but the lasting value is in the non-monetary support.

Take Stock in Children, as the name suggests, is also based on the premise of investing in young people and, like JSF, it invests more than money. It begins early in high school (or before) and has a large mentoring component. Under the new merged program, Take Stock will have the advantage of direct participation by the schools in its program and this will be a huge improvement. Take Stock will also have a college retention support program for all of these students, thanks to funding from JSF and the Keenan Foundation.

The merged program will serve 600 in the high school system this year. Take Stock and the Foundation will work together to raise money in order to increase that number. JSF will commit funding to this for the next few years but the enduring success for this merger will depend upon how much additional money is raised from the community.

All of the students will get scholarships to go to college and most of them will succeed. The secret to their success will be faith in themselves, not money.