At the heart of our mission at Overdeck Family Foundation lies a continued commitment to opening doors for every child by measurably enhancing education both inside and outside the classroom. Our team has the privilege of collaborating with exceptional organizations across the education sector that are dedicated to this same goal. At a time when students everywhere are grappling with socioemotional challenges and struggling to catch up to pre-pandemic academic levels—this mission is critical.
Each day, our grantee partners touch the lives of countless educators, students, and families. Through the stories of these beneficiaries, we get a glimpse into what impact looks like on the ground in the communities our grantees serve.
Below, we are thrilled to share four stories that illustrate how the organizations we fund create meaningful change. Read on to see how technology and targeted professional development can transform students’ literacy skills, how healthcare, family, and district partnerships can unlock solutions for children, and how interactive learning can spark excitement for mathematics.
Fostering a love of reading with CommonLit
Jeffrey Allagood has been teaching at Stephen Foster Elementary School, a Title I school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for 31 years. “I love learning something new every day and teaching the next generation,” he shared. “I’ve been at my school so long that I’ve taught some of my former students’ children!”
Mr. Allagood first heard about the digital literacy program CommonLit by word of mouth. “One of my colleagues was a former principal at a charter school in Miami, and they used CommonLit at her school. She loved how the computer program is so easy to use and how it is well-written with many genres to choose from. My fifth-grade team signed up, and we’ve been using it now for about six years.”
CommonLit is designed to function as a core program for English Language Arts teachers, offering curriculum, benchmark assessments, instant data to gauge student progress, and expert-led professional development for teachers. Today, the nonprofit has helped over five million students become proficient readers—1.5 million in the 2021-22 school year alone.
Since he began using CommonLit in the classroom, Mr. Allagood has seen a measurable impact on students’ literacy skills, with over 91 percent of his fifth-graders passing the Florida English Language Arts state test last year, far exceeding the statewide average of 55 percent. “Since we did CommonLit on a daily basis, it really prepared them for a difficult state exam!”
For one of Mr. Allagood’s students, CommonLit left a lasting impression. In a handwritten letter to the nonprofit’s founder and CEO, Michelle Brown, the student writes: “Thank you for making CommonLit. I never really liked reading [books] because it was always forced upon me and I thought they were really boring. Until I read ‘The Woman and Her Bear.’ I never thought I could enjoy a book.”
Across Florida schools, classrooms utilizing CommonLit saw a 20 percent increase in the proportion of students reading at Proficient and Mastery levels on the end-of-year Florida state assessment. The study also showed students using CommonLit at low-income Title I schools experienced greater gains in reading performance compared to non-Title I peers.
Inspiring confident, capable readers with FluentSeeds
“I don’t want to play, I want to work with you at your table!” plead students in a transitional kindergarten classroom at Highland Community Elementary School in Oakland, California. Ms. Vicki, a classroom tutor, has seen so much success using ©SEEDS of Learning strategies that her students would rather have more time learning with her than playing outside during recess.
SEEDS, developed by the nonprofit FluentSeeds, is a professional development and coaching model based on the science of reading that advances kindergarten readiness through fun, high-quality interactions between adults and children.
A randomized control trial showed that a single year of SEEDS teacher training produces statistically significant, positive gains in early literacy skills—up to eight months of additional learning within one year.
Since implementing SEEDS practices in their shared classroom, Ms. Vickie and Ms. Kott, a Highland Community teacher, have seen drastic increases in literacy proficiency from fall measurements compared to winter Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDI) data. From near across-the-board zeros to numbers almost entirely in the teens and twenties, students in classrooms using SEEDS practices gained foundational knowledge critical for kindergarten and are well on their way to becoming strong, confident readers.
Empowering Boston-area families with EdNavigator
Understanding how to navigate the school system can be a daunting task for anyone, but it’s infinitely more complicated for families who face economic, cultural, or language barriers while also navigating potential learning differences or delays. The nonprofit EdNavigator tackles this challenge by partnering with healthcare providers. Through these partnerships, pediatricians and other practitioners refer families in need of Pre-K-12 education support to expert “Navigators” who are trained to help them address school-related concerns and access recommended services.
In 2021, EdNavigator kicked off a partnership with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), which provides health care to families in and around East Boston, Massachusetts. Since then, Navigators have supported more than 900 families—the majority of which speak a first language other than English—through EBNHC pediatric referrals.
Once a referral is made, Navigators work closely with families to provide personalized, 1:1 assistance. In the area of school enrollment, Navigators help families identify appropriate public schools or preschools and understand the enrollment process. They can also help families secure academic support, including navigating the special education/504 Plan process, assisting English Language Learners, and supporting students with limited or interrupted education.
“EdNavigator is so helpful for getting kids into school and getting IEPs,” shared one healthcare provider. “Often I start the process and give the family a letter, then ask them to take it from there, and families are intimidated or get incorrect information from the school districts. EdNavigator makes the process so much more successful.”
EdNavigator’s recent “Lag Time” report details the importance of their work along with additional insight into how policy compliance failures in the Boston area can delay needed special education support.
Deepening math understanding at the National Museum of Mathematics
Research shows that having a positive attitude about math is predictive of stronger math performance among elementary school students. As recently as 2020, an EdWeek Research Center survey found that 67 percent of teachers report math anxiety as a challenge for their students. MoMath, the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City, is working to build excitement for the joy of mathematics through interactive exhibits, galleries, and programs for families, while also expanding access with philanthropic support to paid programming and events.
“MoMath has really impacted my children’s lives,” shares Fabienne Keller, a New York City-based mother of three. In 2017, her oldest son, Chris, then a kindergartener, attended MoMath’s Transformations Summer Camp. Each summer, the camp engages New York City students through creative projects, activities, and interactive math learning.
“Math tends to be difficult for a lot of children, but the way MoMath presented math to my son has helped him stay on top of his classes, way beyond the other kids in his class,” said Fabienne. “I remember an exam that he had to take. He said to me, ‘You would not believe what was on that test—I learned it at MoMath!’”
Through summer camp, Chris built close connections and friendships while also deepening his math understanding, preparing him to excel in the classroom. “The staff is amazing and so welcoming, and when my son comes out of Transformations, he feels like he can conquer the world and do anything,” explained Fabienne. “He loves learning and being challenged! What these kids learn goes beyond math. They learn how to interact with people, how to be kind—it’s all so important.”
Today, all three of Fabienne’s children can’t wait to spend their summers at Transformations. “My other son, Jeremiah, used to cry when I would drop off his brother off at MoMath camp [because] he wanted to come here as well. Now, my daughter Mackenzie can’t wait to attend! MoMath holds a special place in all of our hearts.”
Thank you to Jeffrey Allagood, Fabienne Keller, Ms. Kott, Ms. Vicki, and the EdNavigator team for sharing your stories.
Header image courtesy of Fabienne Keller