The Unlimited Power of Partnership

January 2021 Update

By: Barry Brensinger, Manchester Proud; Robert McLaughlin, National Collaborative for Digital Equity; Mary Ford, SNHU School of Education

Just days after the rousing adoption of our community’s new strategic plan for Manchester’s public schools, back on February 20, 2020, COVID-19 began to reshape our lives.  Its impacts have been particularly strong on our schools, forcing the re-tooling of learning and the reallocation of limited resources.  Had the new strategic plan remained temporarily unattended, we might all have understood.  But, thanks to the diligence of our school leaders and Board of School Committee, the implementation of the plan has continued unabated, perhaps even accelerated by COVID inspired awareness and urgency.

During the early wake of COVID consequences, Manchester Proud reached out to our Superintendent, Dr. Goldhardt, to better understand our District’s most critical needs and formulate a response. The need to get computers into the hands of our learners was at the top of the list and led to an extraordinary model of school-community partnerships.

Upon learning that hundreds of our lower and middle income (LMI) students were without the devices needed for remote learning, Manchester Proud contacted the National Collaborative for Digital Equity and learned that NCDE was already aligned with Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) School of Education, assessing the scope of Manchester School District’s digital needs and possible sources of funding.  We joined forces and all that has happened since serves as an example of community stepping-up to support our kids and schools.

Consistent with Manchester Proud’s tradition of community engagement, banks and credit unions serving our City were invited to form a Financial Partners Work Group, to explore how they might combine resources to best support Manchester’s students.   The Group soon adopted “Operation Lemonade”, whose mission is to ensure that our District’s LMI students have effective digital access for learning.  Here’s what they have accomplished so far – no stone is being unturned!

  • 350 laptops have been purchased and are being distributed to kids in need throughout the City – Thanks to the generosity of Bank of America, Bangor Savings Bank, Bar Harbor Bank, Bellwether Community Credit Union, Citizen’s Bank, People’s United Bank, and Service Credit Union.
  • Our friends at the Bean Foundation have provided funds to help families secure broadband services through Comcast Internet Essentials. Declared to be a “Godsend” by program coordinators.
  • Coordination workshops have been held with the District, Manchester Proud, NCDE, SNHU, and NAACP, to promote seamless access to and timely delivery of the needed devices and services. Our District has developed an effective process, using social workers in our schools to identify students/families with needs, and designating Kelly Jobel at District headquarters to lead a response team, including MSD’s IT department.
  • Of course, students with new devices and broadband access are also likely to need technical support for set-up and use. Working with VISTA and Victory Women of Vision, an online program is underway to train linguistically diverse New American teens and young adults to provide tech support for our students and families.

Given the success of “Operation Lemonade”, the Financial Partners Work Group is already underway with its next initiative:  To help lift our students out of intergenerational poverty with inclusive career pathways into financial services and teaching.   We are delighted that Manchester Community College has joined this initiative and we are looking forward to upcoming progress.

Manchester Proud is committed to embedding the pride of making and “owning” exceptional public schools into Manchester’s civic DNA.  The success of the Financial Partners Work Group is an example of the Unlimited Power of Partnership:  A need was identified, community came together, and as the need was explored solutions evolved to be more comprehensive and effective than first imagined.

Optimizing education and opportunities for ALL of our students is indeed the work of our entire community.  Together we will make Manchester’s Public Schools extraordinary – for all of our kids – for all of us!