What does it look like when an entire county comes together to support its young people by giving them the knowledge, skills, resources and opportunities to achieve a postsecondary credential of market value? That’s the question that Community Catalyst Partners (CCP) and leadership in Beaver County, PA are seeking to answer as we explore the drivers of the County’s educational, postsecondary and economic success.
A community with rich heritage in steel manufacturing, Beaver County has seen its economic opportunities fade with the closure of the steel mills over the last three decades. The County has an aging population (over 70% of residents do not have child in public schools) and 14 separate school districts which have student enrollments of under 2,500 each.
The large number of school districts, and the concentration of low-income students in a small number of larger districts, is a legacy of the industrial history of the region. Until the early 1980s, Beaver County was made up of steel mill towns that were established along ethnic lines, as European immigrants arrived in the US and African Americans arrived from the south to find work. The communities with disadvantaged populations historically, including Aliquippa, Ambridge, Beaver Falls, and Hopewell, continue to evidence higher rates of poverty today.
Beaver County school system profiles reveal a generally positive but highly diverse pattern across districts, with most schools performing above state norms but others trailing. As would be expected, there is an inverse correlation with student socioeconomic status: the greater the proportion of low-income students, the lower the academic performance on average. As a result, several high schools that have historically disadvantaged populations see lower percentages of students matriculate to some level of college than their counterparts
Today, CCP is working with Beaver County to galvanize and organize an array of local partners around the goal of increasing postsecondary attainment and workforce development opportunities for its young people. And, those local partners are creating a movement intent on fundamentally changing expectations about the quality of life in Beaver County.
With every endeavor that CCP embarks upon, the aim is to create the systems and structures needed to help local communities sustain their efforts. Over the long term, the ultimate goal of the work in Beaver County is to increase the number of students who achieve a postsecondary degree of market value, graduate qualified for 21st century jobs, and stay within the community, further developing the overall economic health of a region.
Last year, CCP facilitated the formation of the Beaver County Education Planning Committee, which is made up of 35 members. These partners and decision-makers represent all sectors of the Beaver County community and are working together to establish a framework and action steps through which the following objectives will be accomplished:
Establishing and communicating community-owned expectations and goals
Using collaborative governance to inform and sustain effective initiatives
Using data to quantify benchmarks, measure progress, and establish accountability
Implementing comprehensive programming to align educational initiatives with community needs
Marketing educational and county assets locally and regionally
With the governance and organizational architecture in place, along with a community-owned goal, a commitment device (eg, a last dollar tuition scholarship program) will be established to bolster the goal and encourage the alignment of academic and non-academic supports and resources, along with a formalized and a diverse collaborative cross-sector leadership board that invites all voices from the community and engages them at the table.
Beaver County’s new initiative is now well positioned to nurture the gifts and talents of all young people by ensuring opportunity and promoting development through school and community collaboration.