If the nation wants to combat the decline of education, it should take tips from the Aspen community, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Brenda Dann-Messier at The Aspen Institute on Friday.
Schools, nonprofits and businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley have come together through the Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) to encourage lifelong learning and to educate people of all ages, and that collaborative effort is key to successful education reform, Dann-Messier said. The ACF supports local nonprofits through grants, and last year launched the Cradle to Career Initiative, which brings nonprofits, businesses, philanthropists and the government together to support the educational efforts from Aspen to Parachute.
“In these challenging fiscal times it’s more important than ever to align resources, identify any gaps and ways to fill them and employ all your partners strategically,” Dann-Messier said. “... ACF helps partnerships to do all of this and more.”
Dann-Messier’s comments came during a keynote speech she gave in front of about 250 community members at a symposium presented by the foundation called “Cradle to Career: Building Youth Success from Aspen to Parachute.”
The nation is facing an education crisis, Dann-Messier said. Due to the widening gap between upper and middle classes, there are uneven levels of opportunity, she said. Meanwhile, students are not being taught the practical skills required to be employed, she said. About 60 percent of jobs in the country require post-secondary education, which students are not completing.
The nation’s top three priorities should be to provide preschool to everyone, teach young adults practical skills and make college affordable, she said. The ACF is addressing at least one of those priorities with its “Gus the Bus” program, which transforms a school bus into a portable preschool classroom on wheels that provides education to 72 children, she noted.
In order to address the other issues, Dann-Messier suggested that the ACF try to provide opportunities for low-income parents to gain new skills. It has been proven that increasing the level of a parent’s education has a positive impact on his or her children’s success in school, she said. Dann-Messier also encouraged the community to incorporate programs that allow students to accelerate their progress throughout their educational careers, like offering college-level courses in high schools, which fulfill credit requirements for both.
Dann-Messier said she was delighted to hear that the local community already has undertaken an effort to partner schools with the Colorado Mountain College and the University of Colorado. The program helps low-income and minority students be the first in their family to attend college.
“I hope you’ll build and expand on this effort,” she said.
Ultimately, there is not one easy, quick fix that will change the problems in the nation’s education system, Dann-Messier said. It’s not only going to take local communities coming together, it will also require a currently split U.S. Congress to find common ground in the name of progress, she said.
“I think all of us recognize that we can’t do it alone,” Dann-Messier said. “The task is enormous ... we’re [going to be] forced to work together.”