2022 All-America City Finalist – Portland, ME

In Portland, like many other communities, the pandemic highlighted many long-standing disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income families and children. Portland ConnectED exists to combat this challenge. This cross-sector, cradle-to-career partnership includes over 70 organizations from the early childhood, K-12, postsecondary, government, business, nonprofit, health and philanthropic sectors that are working in close partnership with Portland Public Schools (PPS) and the Portland Housing Authority (PHA). Through these relationships, Portland ConnectED seeks to bring opportunity to families in public housing and address the barriers that may get in the way of children succeeding in school. These efforts fall into three principal areas: revitalized use of study centers; afterschool, summer and out-of-school learning opportunities; and partnerships with parents and caretakers.

Study Centers
Since 1992, PHA has operated four afterschool drop-in study centers designed to facilitate academic and social success for students who live in public housing. These centers have been valuable for decades in providing structured study spaces and connecting children with resources in local organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, and they became essential in assisting children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with remote learning support amidst hybrid learning. Building on this experience, Portland ConnectED anticipates continued expansion of study centers to better integrate in-school learning with afterschool programming, provide resources to families with specific educational needs, and support families and children to ensure school readiness.

Afterschool, Summer and Out-of-School Learning Opportunities
Beyond study centers, Portland ConnectED and PHA have partnered with various community organizations on a diverse collection of educational initiatives designed to complement in-school education. Through a relationship with the Portland Public Library, multiple summer reading programs connect children in public housing with reading resources and summer learning opportunities. During the pandemic, a $500,000 investment facilitated the creation of the Out of School Time Network, enabling over 500 children to participate in learning in arts, outdoor education, civic engagement and sports outside of the classroom.

Partnerships With Parents and Caretakers
Recognizing the importance of two-generation strategies to assist in improving learning opportunities and outcomes for children in public housing, Portland ConnectED and PHA have strengthened partnerships with parents and caretakers. Through participation in the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) and Resident Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) programs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, PHA has connected families with employment networks and resources designed to address basic needs ranging from school supplies to medical care. Portland Empowered has empowered traditionally underserved families and caretakers to advocate for their needs within local policymaking and decisions regarding housing and education, and Starting Strong (an initiative of Portland ConnectED) convenes a Parent Council to guide early childhood education efforts.

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