Numbers don’t lie and the staggering statistics we saw through our Community Scorecard and the Florida Chamber’s Scorecard prompted us to take action as a business community on an issue that will have great effects on the future of our community. Currently, there are more than 10,000 students living in poverty in Leon County. Nearly 50% of children are entering kindergarten unprepared, and 54% of our third graders are reading below grade level. As a Chamber, we continuously stress the importance of talent and a skilled workforce, but it begins way before an individual starts a career. Our future leaders and decision-makers are currently in classrooms learning their ABCs and how to solve math problems, and we have a responsibility to ensure they’re successful.
As part of the Chamber’s focus on talent, workforce, and education, we launched the Classroom Connection program in 2021 as a way for businesses to support our students and teachers in their first years of education – particularly in the 14 Title 1 schools in our district. This initiative matches organizations with classrooms and lets them work together to identify their specific needs. Whether it is supplies and snacks, or one-on-one mentoring, our classroom sponsors have risen to the occasion in ways we couldn’t believe.
One of our early supporters; community leader, Southside advocate, and Conversations With Nicole talk show founder/host, Nicole Everett, signed up and was matched with Mrs. Harris’ kindergarten class at Bond Elementary School. Due to COVID restrictions, Nicole led virtual reading time, introducing a new book each week. Once restrictions were lifted, Nicole never missed an opportunity to visit the classroom. “It does not take a lot of time to make a difference in the lives of young people”, says Nicole, “However, consistency is key.” She went above and beyond to ensure special events like the 100th Day of School and Black History Month were joyous and memorable moments for the students. A personal video shoutout from hip hop legend Darryl ‘DMC” McDaniels of RunDMC was even made possible through her love of “the best class in the universe”.
Mrs. Harris says she and Nicole bonded over the desire to see her students become their best selves. When the 2021-2022 school year finished, she was moved to teaching first grade and asked Nicole to join her and the new class. Reading time, gardening, and jigsaw puzzle competitions became traditions when Nicole visited. “It is comforting to see the students have a role model and something to look forward to each week”, says Mrs. Harris. “She is teaching them skills that they will be able to use for years to come.”
It is relationships like Nicole and Mrs. Harris that remind us of the importance of investing in our students – the next generation of our workforce. Our more than 55 Classroom Connection sponsors have taken the pledge and supported our students in their own creative ways. From banks and law firms to individuals and small businesses, we are proud to see our business community doing its part to pave the way to success for Leon County students.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Tallahassee Chamber’s Classroom Connection program and becoming a sponsor, visit www.TLHClassroomConnection.com.