The following remarks were given on February 18, 2016 at the United Way of Northern Arizona's Campaign Celebration event in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Good morning. Thank you for that kind introduction. My name is Paul Luna and I am the president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.
It is my pleasure to be with you to celebrate your community’s support of United Way of Northern Arizona. Congratulations to all of you on a successful fundraising campaign.
I know, firsthand, how much work goes into an annual campaign and how it takes support and commitment on the part of the community to make it happen. And congratulations and thank you to you, Cynthia Seelhammer, for your leadership as campaign chair.
Thanks to you, there are children who are ready to enter school, there are individuals who are financially stable and there are families who are physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy.
In the spirit of celebration, please give yourselves a hand!
I’d like to begin today by telling you a little bit about Helios Education Foundation. We are a philanthropic organization dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals in Arizona and Florida to succeed in postsecondary education.
We focus on all students, but we have a particular interest in those who are traditionally underserved – first generation, minority and students from rural areas.
This focus evolved out of our four fundamental beliefs:
• We believe education is an investment and not an expense
• We believe every student, regardless of zip code, deserves a high quality education.
• We believe we will achieve our mission through partnership and collaboration.
• and we believe education changes lives strengthens communities
This last statement is the one I would like to spend our time today talking about. This idea that education changes lives and strengthens communities.
Those two aspirations are directly aligned to United Way’s mission. You are collectively working to improving lives and making communities strong in northern Arizona. We, at Helios, believe that education is the most important thing we can do, as a community, to realize those goals. We believe that education opens the door to opportunities and breaks the cycle of poverty for individuals and families.
Poverty clearly delineates the “haves” and the “have-nots”. But, poverty does not determine potential. In reality, education is the great equalizer.
Education also contributes to a strong and robust economy for communities. A more educated and prepared workforce leads to more business growth and higher employment rates.
Education is major topic of conversation in our state.
Open a newspaper on any given day and you’ll see an article on student performance, education reform, the need for more rigorous standards and appropriate assessments.
A recent voter poll done by Expect More Arizona shows education is the most pressing issue on the minds of Arizona voters, above immigration and the economy.
However, we have some work to do.
Currently, we have significant gaps in academic achievement and degree attainment between our minority and White students. Only 37 percent of individuals in Arizona have an associate’s degree or higher. And that number drops to less than 20 percent when talking about Latino or American Indian populations.
And if you couple that with the demographic reality that there are more children of color in our K-12 system than white children - we simply must get serious about ensuring that all children, regardless of where they were born, who their parents are, or what color their skin is have the educational opportunities they need to succeed.
And it starts here. With people like you. People who are invested in the success of your community. People who are willing to partner and collaborate on a shared vision for your community. We must share best practices, reform our system and hold accountable those who are in the position of best impacting our students.
If we want a strong economy…if we want safe and prosperous communities…if we want individuals to thrive, we must prioritize education.
But the reality is that time is working against us. The students sitting in our classrooms today are tomorrow’s leaders.
Our future economic success depends on their academic success today. And they are growing up in a world vastly different from just 10 or 20 years ago.
Today’s student will likely have more than ten jobs by the time he or she is 38.
The top ten in-demand jobs today didn’t even exist five years ago.
The amount of technical information we have is doubling every two years.
Today’s educational experience can’t be about gaining knowledge – knowledge is at our fingertips. The search for knowledge ends with Google.
But the real purpose of education today is to help students understand what to do with the knowledge they have at their fingertips.
Our education systems must produce individuals who:
• are critical thinkers and problem solvers;
• understand the value of collaboration;
• have a sense of initiative and even entrepreneurialism;
• are effective communicators;
• have a sense of imagination;
• and most of all, believe in themselves.
Those are the traits of new leaders.
The global economy also demands that students obtain an education beyond high school in order to succeed. Every student must complete some form of postsecondary education – whether it’s a license, degree or certificate — in order to compete for stable, well-paying jobs.
Before our students can become contributors to society, before a student can be successful in completing a postsecondary degree, and, before that student engages in rigorous high school curriculum, they must be given a strong foundation of early grade success that is rooted in social, emotional and cognitive development. Research shows the early learning years are critical to a child’s development.
By age three, children living in families in need of public assistance are exposed to 30 million fewer words compared to a family with a higher socioeconomic level.
With 90 percent of a child’s brain being developed by age 5, it is obvious why quality learning opportunities are important for all children.
Helios is a proud partner of the United Way of Northern Arizona. And we have worked together on Read On Flagstaff, an effort focused on boosting the language and literacy development of children ages birth-8. Read On Flagstaff provides personalized services to families in high need neighborhoods in this community.
One of the most innovative parts of Read On Flagstaff is Kindercamp, a 4-week program designed to help children enter kindergarten and prepares them with the social and foundational academic skills they need to be successful.
These are the types of activities that make a difference. That help ensure that all children are prepared to succeed.
But these types of activities require leadership, persistence and community support. The type of support that is in this room.
As I close my remarks today, I want to thank you for your leadership and engagement in this community. And your support of United Way of Northern Arizona.
You are critical because you are in a position to lead this community, to foster collaboration and to support student success.
Our state, like many others across this nation, is at a crossroads. And our future will be dictated by the choices we make today. We must decide that Arizona will be a state that values education…a state that believes that education changes lives and makes communities better.
We also have to decide that Arizona is a state that values cultural diversity and fundamentally treats everyone with dignity and respect.
A state where parents can raise their children with no limits, instilling in them that they can be anything they want to be.
A state where a quality education is available to all children regardless of where they are born, who their parents are or how much money they have.
It will take all of us at the table focused on the success of every student.