Nurturing Tomorrow: The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation Teams Up With School District To Transform Young Minds

Written by Hilary Totin
Jan 18, 2024 2:30 PM ET

Originally published on DICK'S Sporting Goods Sideline Report

“Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”

This is the mindset that the team behind The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation shared when they launched a special partnership with the McKeesport Area School District near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania back in May 2022. The goal was to give students at Twin Rivers Elementary and their families proper resources and programming to support not only their learning, but also their holistic well-being.

Fast forward to January 2024:

  • Student attendance is up drastically, with 67% having on-track, great or perfect attendance so far this school year.
  • Student engagement is up 48 points to 80% from Spring 2022.
  • Staff engagement increased by 54 points from Spring 2022, with 73% reporting a positive working environment

“We wanted the school to feel like a home away from home,” said Communications and Corporate Relations Specialist Jack Higgins. “Not just by providing different resources, but by creating a positive culture and climate for all.”

A pivotal part of creating such change was restructuring the school day to include the Ready to Learn initiative and Midday Block.

“The Ready to Learn initiative is based on the premise that we can’t assume children show up every day ready to learn,” said Jaclyn Castma, education associate executive director.

Each morning, students are greeted with a Wellness Welcome. Students in grades K-2 identify how they’re feeling emotionally on a board when they enter the classroom, while students in grades 3-5 check in electronically through an app. They then take part in daily discussion circles to consistently nurture both peer-to-peer and peer-to-teacher relationships.

“The kids see school as a safe place,” said United at Twin Rivers Principal Brandy Daye. “They know there are people here to support them and listen. They’re open and honest with us now more than ever.”

The initiative also led to the hiring of six Learning Relationship Specialists (LRS). Their role is to act as first responders within the school and ensure that students are getting what they need to be their best and return to class ready to learn.

“Our mission doesn’t just focus on a student’s education, but treating each student as their own person,” said Family and Community Advocate Latoya Brownfield. “We want our students to not only be academically successful, but also physically and mentally healthy.”

LRS also facilitate the Midday Block, along with administrators and counselors, to provide all students with 30 minutes of play each day before or after their 30-minute lunch period. This structure also frees up teachers to take a full hour break to rest, recharge and prepare for the second half of the day.

Before the partnership with The DICK’S Foundation, Castma said students only had a 30-minute lunch period between classes, and the playground on the school’s campus was not utilized.

“During COVID, students weren’t allowed to go on the playground. Sadly, that practice stuck post-pandemic,” Castma said.

Now when the weather allows, Midday Block play happens on the newly renovated playground. The renovation was completed in time for the start of the 2023-2024 school year and includes brand new equipment and a small turf soccer field.

The partnership doesn’t just benefit McKeesport Area School District students and their families, but also the entire McKeesport community thanks to a Community Resource Center on campus.

The Community Resource Center is open during the school day and features a food pantry, free clothes and shoes, a laundry facility and showers. There’s also a health hub with ongoing healthcare programming, such as COVID and flu shot clinics.

Brownfield said the partnership provides a bridge between the community and the district. “It builds relationships, brings the community inside the school and creates a sense of belonging.”

The DICK’S Foundation hopes the success of this partnership will inspire other organizations and foundations to partner with school districts in their own backyard.

“This is important work,” Higgins said. “We’re shaping our future.”