A shocking statistic–and what we’re doing about it

Charlotte Conaway
Charlotte Conaway

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Charlotte Conaway.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

82% of Birmingham City School children cannot read at grade level. I know this is shocking, but we have found a way to help.

I have mixed emotions about publicizing our efforts.

I’m afraid it might appear I’m writing this article to feel important or to promote my company. Or that I am ‘putting down’ Birmingham City Schools.

The fact is I feel we as individuals and companies have the opportunity and responsibility to make a difference and it would be irresponsible to be quiet just to avoid some likely negative judgement or criticism.

If we want Birmingham to be a better place to live for all of us, we must open our eyes to the struggles of our neighbors and be willing to help.

Serve our Community

I work for TekLinks, an IT services company based here in Birmingham, with seven other offices throughout the Southeast. Our company has done some self-evaluation over the last few years and determined that one of our core values should be to “Serve our Community.”

In line with that thinking, each of our offices has had the opportunity to get more involved in our respective communities with the full support and encouragement of leadership.

Here in Birmingham, I was inspired to get involved, and was then tasked with finding a way for TekLinks to serve. I met with United Way and Hands on Birmingham and they suggested three areas where we could get involved: (1) Education; (2) Finance; and (3) Health. They explained the current needs in all three areas, however, the statistic that really grabbed my attention and ignited my passion was that only 18% of Birmingham City School students were reading at their grade level or higher.

I was stunned at such a low percentage and felt that education could be the area for TekLinks to have the greatest impact.

Partnering with schools

United Way and Hands on Birmingham guided us through the process of partnering with Oxmoor Valley Elementary School. We made it clear from the beginning that we wanted to adopt this school long-term, not just do a one-time project.

We then met with the school to understand their needs. Honestly, I don’t think they expected much. No one had offered to “adopt” them before. When they began to understand that we were serious and committed to helping their school, tears of joy started flowing.

I tried to make the conversation lighter by asking them to “pretend it is Christmas and you can ask for whatever you want.” I wanted them to dream big. We came up with a wish list, and over the past year and a half, TekLinks employees have jumped in to help make those wishes come true. Here are some of the ways we were able to serve:

  • Tutored students in reading and math
  • Held Back to School Rallies in 2016 and 2017 with help from Jim n’ Nicks, Buffalo Rock and Publix
  • Donated 500 backpacks with school supplies
  • Set up online registration
  • Organized landscaping days where employees cleaned and planted to beautify the school
  • Donated turkeys at Thanksgiving for families in need
  • Donated 500+ books for every student at Christmas
  • With the help of United Way, held a Safe Routes bicycle rodeo to teach kids about bike safety
  • Invited STAIR (Start the Adventure in Reading), an after school reading program for second graders who test into the program
  • Invited Girls on the Run, a mentoring and exercise program for young girls as well as a fitness instructor that provides free exercise classes to teachers once a week
  • Partnered with Children’s Hospital to give out 200 booster seats to families in Birmingham City Schools
  • Partnered with Children’s Hospital to bring in Body Trek, a free standing mobile unit that teaches children to make positive health choices now and in the future

Inspire other companies to get involved

We also wanted to inspire other companies in Birmingham to get involved, so Jim Akerhielm, TekLinks’ CEO, and I came up a business model for others to follow. The main goal of this business model is to engage employees to volunteer their time instead of simply writing a check.

If the school needs monetary help, then the company can purchase the requested items and give them to the school. But the true impact happens when people get personally involved and see life from another’s perspective.

This model is one of involvement, accountability and sustainability. So far, TekLinks has met with O’Neal Steel, EMC Insurance, Buffalo Rock, Regions Bank and Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood–all have committed to get involved.

My hope is for ALL Birmingham City Elementary Schools to have a business or corporate sponsor within the next 10 years. If students all over our city can achieve a higher level of success, imagine the economic impact that could have in our city and in our state. Imagine the difference we could make for all of us.

If you would like to make a difference in the lives of our future generation and would like to volunteer please contact cconaway@teklinks.com.

Charlotte Conaway heads up Community Development for TekLinks headquartered here in Birmingham. She works specifically with Birmingham City Schools and corporations.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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2 thoughts on “A shocking statistic–and what we’re doing about it”

  1. We gave government (problem #1) a virtual monopoly (problem #2) the responsibility to educate our children so no one should be surprised at the results.

    Try freedom. Try vouchers. They can’t be worse.

  2. You are not “putting down Birmingham City Schools” because that system is not the only one with problems. The entire concept of giving government a monopoly on education has been proven to be a failure. The only places it works are where the parents or companies like yours have the resources to overcome its inherent deficiencies.

    In this land of the formerly free and home of the formerly brave, try vouchers.

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