Feature: A is for Achievement

Village and ECCL team up with Lee Schools, launching an inspiring JA program

Key stakeholders in the Village of Estero are proving that building a strong community begins with educating and empowering its youngest citizens. Scores of volunteers are rallying around a fired-up, passionate team of Estero council members, school district officials, Junior Achievement leaders, and members of the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL) to define goals and standards that will strengthen the bonds between our community and our schools. Ultimately, their efforts will benefit students, teachers, residents, area businesses, and the entire Village of Estero.

Former Mayor of Estero and current councilman Nicholas Batos reflects on how an ambitious initiative to bridge the community and our schools began with a simple concept.

“The Lee County School District covers a multitude of schools and populations which presents a challenge to get people involved unless they have children in school,” said Mr. Batos. “Up north, where school districts are usually smaller, people feel more connected, recognizing that good schools increase real estate values and stimulate positive results for both residents and businesses. Our core group of like-minded people have joined together to bring this small town effect to Estero, an approach that has long-term potential to serve as a model for other parts of Lee County, and even throughout the state.”

According to Mr. Batos, implementing this overarching concept requires a two-tiered action plan: first, inspire Estero residents to volunteer as ambassadors in area schools by tutoring, mentoring, or supervising a specific project. Second, take a look at our schools to see what resources they need to improve esthetics, building enhancements or academic programming, and then seek ways to fill in the gaps left by a lack of funding.

Cue in Jim Shields, ECCL Economic Outreach Council member and enthusiastic proponent of Junior Achievement (JA) who is advancing a significant educational opportunity that meshes perfectly with the broader initiative. Working closely with Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida (JASWFL) and the organization’s president Angela Fisher, Mr. Shields, along with other key stakeholders, will implement a pilot program entitled “2-5-8-GRADUATE” starting this September. Over the next few months, this unique model of cooperation and collaboration will take shape in all four Estero-area schools: Pinewoods Elementary, Three Oaks Elementary, Three Oaks Middle, and Estero High School.

The program will include JA’s well-developed curriculum for grades two, five, and eight, as well as high school in keeping with JA’s select curriculum:

2nd grade: basic civics in “JA Our Community”
5th grade: entrepreneurship in “JA Our Nation”
8th grade: connects students and financial literacy, “JA Economics for Success”
High School: “JA Career Success” well-timed as graduates prepare to enter the job market or to further their studies in academia

Working together with Village of Estero, school administrators and teachers, and with a team-teaching volunteer plan developed by ECCL, this sustained journey will help better prepare all Estero-area students in JA’s three core-content competencies: financial literacy, work-readiness, and entrepreneurship.

Chris Patricca

Chris Patricca, Lee County School Board

Lee School Board representative Chris Patricca, another key stakeholder in the pilot program, is enthusiastic about the Village/School collaboration. Recounting her early meetings with Mr. Batos and Mr. Shields, Ms. Patricca says, “Estero is so unique to Lee County in the number of dedicated volunteers in this community – they really show up in force, and with so much energy and commitment.”

Inspired and motivated by Mr. Shields’ vision, Ms. Patricca looks forward to the next steps from the academic perspective. She explains that the district’s new Chief Academic Officer Dr. Wanda Creel, a former superintendent of schools in the state of Georgia, will map a curriculum for the 2-5-8-GRADUATE program, a calendared plan that is aligned with Florida standards and encompasses detailed lesson plans for teachers and mentors to follow.

“The potential of the JASWFL program is enormous,” continues Ms. Patricca. “We have kids in our schools who do not have the necessary support at home, nor do they have role models from the financial and banking worlds. These volunteers are coming to us with open and full hearts, ready to change kids’ lives.”

Plans for fall 2018 are right on schedule with volunteer recruitment nearing its goal of 80 Estero Educational Ambassadors. In addition to letters sent to all area financial institutions, Mr. Shields facilitated a meeting on June 6, 2018 comprised of local bankers, educators from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), representatives from Lee Health, and the key stakeholders for 2-5-8-GRADUATE.

“I was quite pleased with the turnout and the session went very well,” said Mr. Shields. “Attendance exceeded our expectations, and we have already gotten a great response with highly qualified individuals signing up to volunteer. We are at about 80 percent of our goal. We are fortunate to have the following team of Estero-area cadre of leaders who are helping make this happen: Lisa Mason, Amy Kuchenbecker, and Kenny James as well as Molly Grubbs (on behalf of LEE HEALTH).”

Volunteers are still needed to empower and inspire our local young people. Mentors will be trained, and given a set of lesson plans compatible with the grade and school to which he or she is assigned.

“As a mentor myself, I can tell you that the energy and excitement from engaging with the students is unmatched. Sharing these lessons is an incredibly rewarding experience,” stated Mr. Shields. “JA volunteers have the unique capacity to make school relevant and fun, which means students are more likely to respond to them. As volunteers share their real-world experiences while presenting JA curricula, they help students bridge the gap between what they learn at school and what they can expect in the world of work. There’s nothing more fulfilling than watching this process unfold, knowing that community volunteers have the potential to make a meaningful, long lasting impact on students’ lives.”

To learn more about the Junior Achievement program or to volunteer as an ambassador, contact Jim Shields at jimshields@fl-office.com. For more information about the Estero Educational Collaborative Coalition, contact Nicholas Batos at batos@estero-fl.gov.

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