Helios Education Foundation believes that education changes lives and strengthens communities. While Florida has led the nation in improving student academic achievement, first-generation, minority, and underrepresented students still trail their White peers in academic performance and degree completion. The cumulative effects of these gaps have limited Florida’s overall postsecondary degree achievement rate.

To address the achievement gaps between White students and their African-American and Latino peers, Helios Education Foundation has launched the Florida Regional Student Success Initiative, deploying four key strategies in three metropolitan regions of the state — Tampa, Orlando and Miami — which collectively represent the largest percentage of first-generation, minority, and underrepresented student populations. Deployed through four key strategies, the Florida Regional Student Success Initiative seeks to ensure more students are prepared to pursue and complete a postsecondary education and acquire the skills necessary to obtain high-demand, high-paying jobs. Those strategies are strategic investing, building and reforming systems, public and political will building, and collaborating and convening.

Helios Education Foundation’s work in Florida is collaborative, comprehensive, and deeply rooted in our fundamental beliefs in Community, Equity, Investment, and Partnership. Each initiative seeks to enhance the community it influences; each partnership seeks to align resources to best serve all students, ensuring equity; and, each outcome provides an opportunity to enhance the educational experience of all students - particularly those of minority, first generation, and underrepresented students - ensuring more students will experience success in college and career.

Closing the achievement gap for these students is fundamental to ensuring Florida benefits from a globally competitive workforce and is positioned for prosperity. As a foundation in perpetuity, we anticipate our work will continuously evolve, improve, and enhance the state of Florida.

Campaign for Grade Level Reading Expansion

Research confirms that proficiency in reading by the end of third grade is a predictor of future academic success. Regrettably, many students who fail to meet this critical milestone quickly fall behind their peers, perpetuating achievement gaps and often leading a disproportionate number of minority students to drop out before completion of a high school diploma. While supportive classrooms are crucial to student success, so too are engaged communities which band together to ensure all students are prepared for success.

Focused on the achievement of our youngest learners, the Florida Grade Level Reading Campaign (FGLRC) has generated momentum that supports improved student outcomes related to grade level reading with current partners working toward the unified goal of improving early grade success. Communities with established programs are working intensively on an array of strategies designed to increase child outcomes, impacting over 500,000 children.

Building upon the success of 16 participating communities, Helios’ investment into the FGLRC expansion will continue its methodical systems approach to ensure short-term success and long-term sustainability while also engaging additional communities.

“Helios is proud to partner with the Florida Children’s Council, state leaders, and early learning providers to ensure our children are immersed in high-quality early learning environments, instructed by exceptionally skilled educators, ensuring all children are experiencing success.”

– Dr. Karen Ortiz, Vice President, Early Grade Success Initiatives, Helios Education Foundation

Central Florida Education Ecosystem Database

Building upon a partnership among Orange County Public Schools, the School District of Osceola County, Valencia College, and the University of Central Florida, that formed the Central Florida Education Ecosystem Database (CFEED) partnership, Helios’ investment moved CFEED partners from the initial design phase to the collaborative build phase which seeks to leverage predictive analytics to provide student supports all along the education ecosystem.

CFEED partners continue to collaborate in order to create a proactive method of using data to ensure success, rather than reflect on failures. Instead of unrelated segments of learning, CFEED desires to see education as a continuum, with each stage building upon the success of the prior. Partners envision using hard data to identify trends that lead to improved student outcomes supported by interventions made at the right time before student success becomes derailed.

Parramore Education and Innovation District Planning

A complementary investment, informed by the Central Florida Education Ecosystem Database, is the Parramore Education and Innovation District. Once a thriving minority community, in recent history Parramore (a neighborhood in Orlando) has seen a steady decline in educational attainment and economic growth. Central Florida leaders, informed by CFEED, will design and implement interventions intended to improve not only postsecondary degree achievement, but also elevate the economic status of Parramore residents.

“Orange County Public Schools, the School District of Osceola County, Valencia College, and the University of Central Florida, and their ground-breaking collaboration, is leveraging data analytics to elevate education outcomes, student success, and – ultimately – the Central Florida region.”

– Braulio Colón, Vice President, Florida Student Success Initiatives, Helios Education Foundation

Helios/Black Leadership Network Scholars at USF

Established to address the postsecondary challenges often faced by minority students, Helios Education Foundation joined the University of South Florida’s Black Leadership Network to establish the Helios/BLN Scholars at USF endowment, seeded in 2018 with a $2,000,000 investment by Helios. Proceeds from the endowment will financially support future Helios/BLN Scholars at USF. An additional $100,000 of grant funds from Helios supported the inaugural cohort of students and initial programmatic work.

In addition to financial support, students who take part in the Helios/BLN Scholars at USF will receive mentorship, guidance in navigating their postsecondary education, and networking connections that often lead to career options. An overarching goal of the Helios/BLN Scholars at USF program is to ensure students receive wrap-around supports not only on campus but also from vested community leaders.

“Ensuring more African-American students achieve postsecondary success is not only an investment into their future, it’s also an investment into the Tampa Bay community. In partnership with the Black Leadership Network, we are proud to establish this endowment to allow more students, regardless of zip code, to experience the transformative power of education.”

– Paul J. Luna, President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation