Innovation Highlights

About Our Work

While the Foundation invests its resources and expertise across initiatives that make an impact in the Early Grade Success, College and Career Readiness and Postsecondary Completion areas, it also supports innovative programs that help reform education systems across those three areas as well.

Most often, these initiatives are collaborative in their approach, bringing multiple partners to the table, and they often focus on building public will and advocacy, informing the field of education and building community capacity.

The Foundation’s 2013 support of SRI International’s Center for Digital Learning in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Aspen Institutes’ Opportunity Youth initiative in Tucson, Arizona, are two examples of Innovative partnerships that are working to support a larger education-reform effort.

Digital Learning and Innovation across Florida

Helios believes that introducing digital technologies into today’s classroom is a critical teaching and learning tool for increasing student academic preparedness and success.

The Foundation is working with SRI International through a $1 million seed investment on its Center for Digital Learning at SRI’s St. Petersburg, Florida campus. The Center provides insight into effective, efficient and research-based methods of integrating digital learning in the classroom and demonstrates how digital learning can improve student achievement.

The Center is leveraging a portfolio of more than $9 million in digital-learning projects to enhance student achievement, including the SunBay Digital Math curriculum, an innovative middle-school digital-mathematics program that began as a one-year pilot test curriculum in Pinellas County Schools funded primarily by the Foundation.

The Foundation envisioned this initial investment as a purposeful step toward continuing to position Florida as a leader in digital learning and innovation. The Center also seeks to further the conversation from one of technology access to one of building a case to demonstrate the most effective and efficient uses of technology in classroom instruction. The hope is that over time, the Center will receive additional investments to strengthen evidence and research around digital learning.

In 2013, based on the promising results of the Pinellas pilot of SunBay Digital Math, the Center was awarded a $12 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant by the U.S. Department of Education to expand and substantiate SunBay’s effectiveness in improving student achievement in algebra.

As a federal grant recipient, SRI must provide a 10 percent match of the $12 million i3 grant award. The Foundation, a key funding partner, is providing 50 percent of these required matching funds through its $1 million investment in the Center for Digital Learning. The Helios portion will be used to make SunBay Digital Math as cost effective as possible, to improve instructional and teacher development processes, to recruit school districts to build evidence of SunBay’s effectiveness and to identify and enable broad adoption of effective practices that introduce digital technologies into the classroom.

Ultimately, upon favorable results of the study, SRI and its partners will provide training and toolkits for schools to implement SunBay Digital Math with the ability to scale the program throughout Florida and the nation.

To learn more about SRI International, visit

Directing Resources to "Opportunity Youth"

Helios has invested in a $150,000 planning grant to help fund an Opportunity Youth initiative in Tucson, Arizona through the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions. The collaborative, led locally by the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, will help discover best practices of cross-sector collaboration to make substantive progress for opportunity youth, defined as young people ages 16-24 who are disconnected from education and work.

Each year, the overall cost to the United States from opportunity youth is over $250 billion – including lost revenue, earnings and increased social services. In 2011, the lifetime societal cost of opportunity youth was $4.75 trillion, according to research conducted by Queens College, City University of New York and Teachers College, Columbia University.(6)

This collaboration will grant second-chance opportunities to vulnerable young adults with the ultimate goal of changing the life trajectory for opportunity youth. By working with K-12 and higher-education leaders, foster-care programs, the justice system, philanthropy and the private sector, the Aspen Institute builds successful pathways for traditionally forgotten youth.

The Aspen Institute is working with similar collaborations in 21 cities and towns across the nation. Using the collective-impact model, the work will bring stakeholders together from all sectors of the community to improve education and employment outcomes for opportunity youth. Through this process, the collaboration will align priorities and goals, identify gaps in knowledge in areas that have historically proven challenging around reconnecting opportunity youth and minimize duplication of efforts across organizations and sectors focused on this population.

Simultaneously, the Aspen Forum will convene roundtable discussions around the country with mayors, community leaders, philanthropies and businesses to explore successful community collaborations and share best practices.