Teaming up for a strong start to school


This fall, the transition back to school is more important than ever.

At United Way of Greater Kansas City, we are deeply invested in the success of our students. We have championed education initiatives for decades, from home visiting programs to out-of-school opportunities. And this summer, as research about the impact of unfinished learning started to emerge, we recognized that we have little time waste to help our students make up lost learning time.

With school enrollment down across our country, chronic absenteeism at an all-time high, and early test results indicating that our elementary students are 4 months behind in reading and 5 months behind in math, we needed to start the school year strong.1 So, we turned to our trusted partners. 

Since 2018, we have worked closely with two local nonprofits – Turn the Page KC and SchoolSmartKC – to reduce chronic absenteeism in the metro area. Reaching out to these two organizations about how to support our schools most effectively was logical.

We met virtually and shared information, concerns, and ideas. We determined the most urgent need was simply helping our students transition back to school. We included another local partner – Show Me KC Schools – with school enrollment expertise and between our four organizations, we pooled our resources, contacts and time to create a joint back-to-school campaign for our greater community.

Our key messages were straightforward – Enroll, Engage, Attend. 

We agreed on key elements of the campaign and determined how we could each contribute:

  • Drafting the op-ed
  • Leading the video
  • Sending the household mailer
  • Adding resources to the website
  • Creating the collateral
  • Editing Spanish translations

We wrote key talking points and debated whether the word “Enroll” should be first or last in our logo. Our collaborative document had multiple rounds of edits and our graphic designer was gracious as we asked her to incorporate our changes – yet again. But the uptick of COVID-19 cases during the summer made our task more challenging and caused moments of doubt. Was the message still relevant? Would we be able to get into a school to film students for the video? Was this the right time to encourage enrollment? On top of these doubts, within our team, we experienced our own personal challenges – we got sick with COVID-19, we had a spouse in the hospital, and we had a staff transition. 

But because we were jointly committed to this work, we turned to one another as trusted thought partners to troubleshoot challenges. We pitched in and completed tasks for one another. And the work moved forward. 

We were thrilled that the Mayor of Kansas City agreed to be in our video, stressing the need to get students back in school. We received the thumbs up from The Kansas City Star to run an op-ed about community partners digging in and supporting our schools. We received supportive feedback from school districts, sharing video messages about how much they have missed their students.

But because we were jointly committed to this work, we turned to one another as trusted thought partners to troubleshoot challenges. We pitched in and completed tasks for one another. And the work moved forward.

Together, our organizations created a toolkit for community partners and schools that we wouldn’t have been able to create on our own. 

Last week each of our organizations sent out our “Enroll, Engage, Attend” campaign to our respective partners, reaching hundreds of school buildings and community organizations. We posted it on our websites and shared on our social media channels.

Collectively, we reached schools, families, and organizations that none of us would have been able to reach alone. And now we hope that our video reminds busy families to enroll; the social media messages help students re-engage; and the student attendance PowerPoints are used during back-to-school nights.

We will continue to ask our partners and schools to share our Enroll, Engage, Attend resources with families. And we will know that as we confront this overwhelming task of getting our students back in school, re-engaged, and attending every day, our four organizations’ own small roles in this effort are that much greater because of our collaboration with one another and our community.

  1.  McKinsey & Company – COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning, July 27, 2021