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Helping Students Shoulder the Load

JPMorgan Chase kicks off partnership with Teachers College by distributing backpacks to students in Harlem

“I’m so glad you all could come today to not only be a part of the school community, but most importantly spend time with the kids.”

On a chilly morning in early January, Principal Elizabeth Jarrett, standing amid colorful student artwork, and book-lined shelves, welcomed a room full of volunteers from Teachers College, JPMorgan Chase (JPMC), World Vision, and the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) to PS 154. The visitors had assembled to distribute backpacks full of school supplies to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Donated by JPMC and assembled by bank employees and members of World Vision, an international NGO committed to improving the lives of children, 90 backpacks were distributed to students in five classrooms. JPMC employees also provided and packed an additional 180 backpacks that will be distributed at two other Harlem schools, PS 36 and PS 76.

PS 154, PS 36, and PS 76 are among seven schools included in TC’s Partnership Schools Consortium, which has been awarded a $1 million grant from the JPMC Foundation in order to launch the consortium’s efforts to improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children living in under-resourced neighborhoods in Harlem. The consortium is an initiative of TC’s Office of School and Community Partnerships (OSCP), led by Associate Vice President Nancy Streim, who notes that “the consortium formalizes and extends OSCP’s work in schools throughout Harlem, allowing TC to leverage its teaching, research, and service in support of providing Harlem youth with access to Comprehensive Educational Opportunity.”

The latter concept calls for delivering programming in the areas of teaching and learning, expanded learning opportunities, early childhood education, family support and engagement, and mental and physical health services to meet children’s academic, social, and developmental needs. “Much of the work over the Consortium’s first year has focused on building the instructional capacity of school leaders, teachers and teacher teams as well as providing students with high-quality expanded learning opportunities,” said Kecia Hayes, who oversees the consortium for TC. Within the next three to five years, the consortium hopes to expand to include 12 schools.

Combining TC’s efforts with support from the JPMC Foundation, a compelling vision of positive, sustainable improvement for children and communities is emerging as a force of change in Harlem.

“Our giving strategy is focused on building communities so that they’re thriving,” said Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne, Vice President of JPMC Foundation. “That includes parents, students, teachers, school leadership and the community at large. So for us – when we think about communities – we think about involving all key stakeholders who will contribute to academic success, and TC’s program is innovative because it does that.”

At the event at PS 154, teachers and PTA members actively engaged with the students as finance and local branch managers from JPMC dispersed into classrooms to interact with the children and distribute the backpacks.  Volunteers read aloud books such as Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama and Double Fudge by Judy Bloom, answered questions from curious students about their jobs working in finance, and initiated conversations about how to save money, how debit cards work, and the joys of sharing with others.

“I finished one book and then they said ‘encore!’” recalled Nicole King, Chase branch manager at the 125th Street location. “I couldn’t believe it, it was the most wonderful thing. What’s exciting about this entire event is that not only do I work here but I also live in the area, so it’s a double benefit for me in terms of giving back.”

Hayes reiterated that sentiment. “Aside from the obvious financial support that an organization like JPMC can provide, the relationship is important because it allows TC to help bridge and expand the networks of young people and their families so that they have access to new and different examples of success and responsible citizenship,” she said. “It provides all stakeholders – higher education, principals, teachers, students, parents, and community organizations – with opportunities to develop deeper understandings of how we each fulfill a critical role as responsible citizens to address the needs of the communities in which we live and work.”

As the event came to a close, King, along with the other JPMC volunteers and TC staff, had the pleasure of handing out colorful, brand new backpacks to the students, who opened their bags and showed off notebooks, markers, rulers, and other critical school supplies. The children also received personalized hand-written cards with positive words of encouragement from World Vision volunteers. “It takes a whole community to provide different things,” said Jarrett, “and something as simple as this has an impact because these volunteers aren’t just giving their time, they’re leaving a gift. That says something because some of our kids come from homes where they didn’t get anything for Christmas.”

Jarrett sees the school’s relationship with TC and JPMC as promising, particularly in the realm of professional development, which she says “is the lever we’re going to use to really implement positive change.” Jennings-O’Byrne is also excited to see the relationship with PS 154 and the other consortium schools flourish.  “What’s unique about this model is that it’s really bridging the best practices from a higher ed institution – an amazing one like TC which has so much experience and knowledge in teaching – and bringing it to some of the most challenging schools in Harlem.”

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