Florida Using Engagement to Move the Needle on Tough Issues

National Civic League’s All-America City Award Program – Community Highlight

Tallahassee Mayor Picture

The National Civic League has started to collect applications for the 2018 All-America City Awards! Throughout the year, we will be highlighting communities who have won the award in the past. This month, we are highlighting multiple past winning communities from the State of Florida: Delray Beach, Sarasota County, Tallahassee, and Fort Lauderdale.

After finding only 50 percent of children in the community were reading on grade level by 3rd grade, the city joined the national call-to-action to participate in the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. The campaign employed cross-sector coordination to create a task force to study student data and take responsibility for the issues impacting their students. Data driven education was essential to begin community conversations on school attendance and strengthen the city’s commitment to diminish the summer learning slide and improve kindergarten readiness.

The creation of the absenteeism prevention program, “Perfectly-Punctual-Campaign” hosted attendance workshops and created attendance programs at two lowest preforming schools. During the first year alone, this program helped these two schools lower absenteeism by 17 percent. Since 2012, the steady decline has permeated the entire City, seeing a steady decline in absenteeism.

To combat summer learning loss, Delray Beach and the School District teamed up in 2012 to provide summer reading programs at 2 summer camps that serve at-risk children. This program expanded to 8 summer camps in 2016, serving over 1,000 students. These same students also attended an art-infused literacy program and received 20,000 free books over five years. These interventions helped make steady progress in the summer learning slide. Increasing parental involvement has also allowed for progress in kindergarten readiness.

Another Florida community, Sarasota County, which previously won the award in 2006 teamed up with Manatee County to be recognized as a 2017 All-America City. This two-county approach allowed for greater collaboration to accelerate and strengthen community wide efforts to improve grade level reading.

In 2015, with support from the Patterson Foundation, the two counties joined forces to form the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading. The campaign built a strong collaborative coalition involving a diverse group of citizens, non-profits, faith groups, and partnered with other businesses, media groups and a housing authority. This resulted in increasing stakeholder engagement in defining goals, creating plans and implementing action steps.

The campaign targeted parent engagement by recruiting 300 families to participate in the Vroom app, which turns everyday moments into childhood learning opportunities. To continue engagement, the campaign launched and expanded Parent University offering courses based on parent needs. A messaging campaign to raise awareness on the importance of attendance saw a 55 percent reduction in chronic absenteeism.

In 2015, Tallahassee, Florida was named an All-America City for the first time since 1999. The city was recognized for three projects, including efforts to increase graduation rates among high school students of color, revitalize a toxic waste area, and improve the quality of life for residents within low-income and older neighborhoods.

Distinguished Young Gentlemen of America, INC (DYG) began in 2008 to address challenges affecting young African-American males. The group helps high school boys develop academic and leadership skills to serve as positive role models for their peers. To do this, DYG began a summer enrichment program that expanded into daily tutoring, mentoring and coaching. Those in the program saw an average GPA increase from a 2.8 in 2012 to a 3.2 in 2014. The program also saw 96.7 of their graduating seniors attend a 2- or 4-year college earning more than $2.1 million in scholarships.

For years, flooding and toxic chemicals poisoned the site where the city of Tallahassee was first founded. To combat both of these issues, Cascades Park was created through community collaboration. The $30 million, 24-acre state-of-the-art storm water management facility was built disguised as a world-class park including a 3,500-seat amphitheater. This project stimulated the cities economy by generating 300 construction jobs and helping revitalize other nearby areas.

Finally, Tallahassee created REACH to improve the lives of its citizens. The program gave community members’ free energy assessments and education to install energy-saving products to help lower their utility costs. The team also connected residents with resources they need, such as Elder Care Services or Emergency Home Repair Programs. The Fire Department secured a grant to install smoke detectors and distribute fire extinguishers at no cost to these residents. Other groups helped repair sidewalks, streetlights, and improve the aesthetics of the city and parks. REACH was able to serve over 6,000 homes, saving residents $18 – $25 each month and improve the safety of its homeowners.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida was able to secure its first All-America City title in 2014 with a focus on resident health. The Flager Arts and Technology (FAT) Village began after a renovation of a crime-ridden area in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Grassroots groups of artists and merchants worked to clean up the four block-long arts community. Reinventing the area with monthly Art Walks allows visitors to stroll through art galleries, studios and warehouses to view theater performances, puppet shows and other works of art.

The city also launched the Northwest Gardens Development, turning a distressed neighborhood into an area of sustainable development with space for outdoor activity, community gardens, energy efficient homes, job training and cultural activities. The project incorporated the “Safe Paths to Safe Places” concept to provide safe walkways to community spaces. Three neighborhood gardens were created to provide access to nutritious food in a part of the city that was once considered a “food desert.”

Applications are now available for the 2018 All-America City Awards, which will spotlight efforts to strengthen inclusive engagement practices that promote equity and bring all voices to the table to help solve our country’s most pressing and complex issues. The 2018 application requires a description of three community projects that show a clear community-wide commitment to inclusiveness, equity, impact, innovation, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration. The 2018 All-America Cities process will culminate in a three-day learning event in late June where community delegations tell their stories of change to a national jury of business, nonprofit, academic and local government experts. Your community could be the next All-America City!

For more information on All-America City Award, please visit https://www.nationalcivicleague.org/aac-2018/  or call (303) 571-4343.

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