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Energizing Communities Around Education

Foundations add value to communities in many ways, grantmaking being but one.

Helios Education Foundation collaborated with NBC News in 2012 to help present Education Nation Miami — four days of events and community conversations intended to build awareness about education, innovation and economic competitiveness.

That investment not only paid dividends for the community in 2012, it continues to pay dividends in 2013, as Helios partnered with NBC to bring Education Nation to Phoenix, Arizona in May.

NBC's Education Nation is an "on-air, online and live-event platform to engage the public in a solutions-focused discussion aimed at improving education and preparing Americans for jobs of the future." Anchored by a national event in New York, Education Nation then expands its reach through a series of regional events each year. Education Nation-Miami was the final stop on NBC's 2012 Education Nation tour.


For Helios Education Foundation, collaborating with a national media institution to generate awareness and interest in some of the Foundation's core issues was an ideal venture.

"NBC was going to be in Florida focusing the dialogue on education," said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO of the Foundation. "It was important for us to be there, have a presence, be involved and be part of that dialogue."

Barbara Ryan Thompson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Helios, agreed. "There are a lot of foundations that do part of their funding in education, but we fund exclusively in education. We wanted to make clear that we are committed and we are engaged throughout the state."

Helios works to improve education across the full continuum, from early childhood through postsecondary. At all junctures, but particularly in the heart of the learning years, the Foundation recognizes the importance of high-quality teaching, an emphasis on technology and the sciences, and preparing students for college and career. Through multiple events, Education Nation-Miami focused on each of these issues.

After an opening ceremony set the stage for the coming days' events, Education Nation-Miami began in earnest with a two-hour Teacher Town Hall that was broadcast live throughout Southeast Florida via NBC's and Telemundo's local affiliates. The meeting provided an opportunity for 500 teachers from across the state -- including some from Hillsborough County -- to talk about what is working in the classroom and how to address today's challenges.


During the week, the NBC News Education Nation bus visited several innovative programs in the Miami-Dade school district, generating media coverage and raising the visibility of some of the best the community has to offer. Among the highlights was the visit to IPrep Academy, a three-year-old, technology-driven senior high school model that enables individual learning in a rigorous academic setting.

Finally, Florida business, civic and education leaders came together for a two-hour conversation that focused on the skills needed to participate in today's workforce and the importance of preparing students to compete in a global economy.

"This was an opportunity to highlight some of the good work going on, some of the innovative work going on," said the Foundation's Ryan Thompson. "A lot of times it seems that all we hear are the negatives and this was an opportunity to have some of the positive stories told."

“Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Without an educated population, the nation will suffer.”

— Soraya Gage, NBC's General Manager of Education Nation

NBC launched Education Nation in 2010 out of its commitment to the importance of growing an educated and informed citizenry. The regional events, begun in 2011, help Education Nation connect more deeply in communities. "Education is really a regional issue and a local issue," Gage said. The tour events create the opportunity to energize the community around education issues and build connections between national ideas and policies, and local knowledge and implementation.


The regional events, begun in 2011, help Education Nation connect more deeply in communities. "Education is really a regional issue and a local issue," Gage said. The tour events create the opportunity to energize the community around education issues and build connections between national ideas and policies, and local knowledge and implementation.

For these regional events to be effective, NBC must collaborate with local organizations, such as Helios Education Foundation. "We want to be sure we are touching on the most important issues," Gage said, "and our foundation sponsors are key in terms of keeping us in tune to what is important locally and in the state."

Alberto M. Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, affirmed the importance of philanthropic partners. "[They] play a critical role in disseminating best practices and scaling up educational reform to the national platform, but also acting as a clearinghouse for what's working in America," he said. "Often, the philanthropic entity is a perfect conduit for this because it is not politically aligned."

In fact, shining a light on what is working was an important outcome for Carvalho. "Education Nation-Miami helped create local awareness of the challenges and opportunities that face educators and provided a laser-like focus on what's working both locally and nationally," he said. "In addition, it provided a venue for local stakeholders to engage in conversation to seek solutions for reform."


Community engagement is a key outcome of Education Nation for NBC. The network measures community awareness in each locale it visits. According to polls conducted by the Aspen Institute for NBC, 30% of the people in Miami were aware of Education Nation following the local visit.

For Helios Education Foundation, measures of success were slightly different.

It was important that Education Nation-Miami had relevance statewide. While the Foundation has invested in South Florida education initiatives as well as some statewide work, it focuses much of its Florida funding in the eight-county Tampa Bay region.

“Education Nation-Miami provided an opportunity to elevate the discussion of education for the state and for the region and to bring attention to issues in education.”

— Barbara Ryan Thompson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Helios Education Foundation

Education Nation-Miami was intentional about including voices from the Tampa area and the issues addressed resonated in Hillsborough County and across the state. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Teacher Town Hall discussion.


Rewa Chisholm, a teacher at Hillsborough County's Mango Elementary School, was among the panelists who were part of the conversation with NBC Chief Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis. That conversation, Chisholm said, provided important insight into the everyday issues teachers face.

"Teachers live what we discussed in Miami," Chisholm said. "[The Town Hall] gave me a platform so my voice could be heard. It is nice for America to see a face with the issues... I reflected on the experience and realized that teachers change the lives of students and most people have no idea what we do and how difficult it is for us to do it with all the outside factors we are faced with....It was nice for our profession to be seen in a positive light."

“The Miami experience taught us the value of creating a space where people could come and be heard and address tough challenges and talk about success.”

— Ian Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for Helios Education Foundation

Education Nation-Miami also presented an opportunity for Helios to learn about executing large community convenings and working with major media partners.

"We spent a lot of time listening, observing and participating in the conversations," said Ian Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for the Foundation. "The Miami experience taught us the value of creating a space where people could come and be heard and address tough challenges and talk about success. That was an important lesson."