Betsey Martens, Executive Director of Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), has been named the first-ever Affordable Housing Institute (AHI) Fellow for her pioneering research into how affordable housing can be a critical link for low income children to achieve lifelong achievement. The 18-month fellowship will focus on applying Boulder’s Bringing School Home Program to other communities across the country.
For the last 18 years, BHP has developed the program with the I Have a Dream Foundation.
“In a child’s first 18 years, only 9% of his or her time is spent in school; the remaining 91% is home-based,” Ms. Martens said. “As affordable housing providers we can work with parents to significantly affect what happens in that 91% space. Bringing School Home has the data to prove it: 92% of our children graduate from high school, versus 63% of their peers.”
Starting at age seven, selected children of public housing families are paired with an adult mentor, acting as a kind of uncle (tio) or aunt (tia), who follows the child and family all the way through their secondary education to assure high school graduation and post-secondary matriculation. The program offers a package of continuous learning – extending the school experience to after school, evenings and nights, on weekends, and during the summer.
“For me as an AHI Fellow,” said Betsey Martens, “this is both a tremendous honor and a tremendous opportunity to take what we have done in Boulder, contextualize it, and adapt it for scalability nationally. In Boulder, we have demonstrated some things that work powerfully, and I want to explore and demonstrate that we are not simply a successful experiment, but in the vanguard of a movement that can transform the effectiveness of public schooling.”
Research done by Ms. Martens during a four‐week research sabbatical at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study Center found that in the US, more than 1,000,000 children drop out of school annually, a massive loss of previous educational investment and a disruption that impairs them economically throughout their lives. These dropouts, her work suggests, are in part a consequence of disrupted learning in the years before. For instance, not achieving third‐grade reading by third grade proves a strong leading indicator of eventually dropping out, and significantly increases the likelihood of future incarceration, with consequent costs to people and society. “Up through third grade, a child is learning to read,” she said. “From third grade on, she reads to learn – and the system assumes she can read well enough to do that.” Such children fall further and further behind their peers, with dropping out an increasingly likely choice.
According to Ms. Martens, a central and over‐looked ingredient in the recipe to close the achievement and opportunity gap for low income children is stable, quality, affordable housing. One of the most important things a child does is grow, and that includes learning, which happens continuously, all day every day, even if the out‐of‐school learning is subconscious. “Sleep is when the mind integrates knowledge and experience,” she said, “and disrupted sleep impairs in‐school performance. Giving children safe and quiet homes to sleep in is essential.” The same applies to summer vacations; test scores show that children from higher‐income families return with higher cognitive capacity after a summer; those with lower incomes fall behind their peers. “Bringing School Home is all about placing the child at the center of rings of help – her family and the BSH education navigator, her fellow public housing residents, and the public schools themselves.”
Ms. Martens’ fellowship was enthusiastically approved, 9‐0, by Boulder Housing Partners’ Board of Commissioners. “We couldn’t be more pleased at what Betsey is doing,” said Angela McCormick, board chairman. “With our support and AHI’s Fellowship, we’re looking forward to seeing these ideas taken to scale.”
About the Affordable Housing Institute (AHI)
The Affordable Housing Institute works globally in housing programmatic initiatives, housing finance and financial structuring, and innovation. Our work encompasses thought leadership, impact consulting, and social venture capital. We work with pro-poor innovators to address systemic obstacles to affordable housing and to help them deliver homes, loans, and new ways of producing visible solutions that can be replicated and scaled. Our clients include key actors in housing such as governments, lenders, developers, development finance institutions, philanthropies, and community organizations. Twice funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we have pioneered the ecosystem/ value-chain approach to housing delivery and housing finance that we have used successfully in Haiti, Mongolia, Nigeria, Turkey, the US, Vietnam, and twenty more countries.
Pictured: AHI Fellow and Boulder Housing Partners Executive Director Betsey Martens with Bringing School Home parents at BHP’s Kalmia property
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