Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School
Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School (Hostos Charter) is a bilingual K-8 a non-profit organization focused on ensuring that students receive a high-quality educational experience, especially those of diverse backgrounds and cultures. As principal Alberto Vargas pointed out “our mission is to empower our community through advocacy, education and the leadership of our youth” (A. Vargas, personal communication, Sept. 20, 2018). The school is part of a small network of five charter schools managed by ASPIRA Inc. of PA. The organization also provides a diverse array of programs and extended learning opportunities for youth and families alike. ASPIRA's foundation, both nationally and regionally, is rooted in the belief that extended learning opportunities significantly enhance youth development. Formed in 1961, many of the key organizational expectations, values, and beliefs of Aspira were established by its founders, Dr. Antonia Pantoja, and Eugenio Maria de Hostos. Vargas was quick to point out that “ASPIRA is the Spanish word for “aspire” and we take word very seriously around here” (A. Vargas, personal communication, Sept. 20, 2018).
Hostos Charter is the first bilingual charter school in the state of Pennsylvania and consistently scores in the top percentile of the School Performance Index as well as achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) several years in a row. School initiatives include a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs as well as a robust music and the arts program and other educational and enrichment opportunities It should also be noted that due to the high demand for student enrollment and limited space, the school uses a lottery system to select eligible students for acceptance. All students living in the area are welcome to enter the lottery either online or in person. Ultimately, Hostos Charter exists as a place where students and the community can grow, get involved, and have a meaningful educational and social experience. The school has over 50 fulltime teachers and staff, a leadership team, executive council, school board, and many support personnel provided by the parent organization. While there is much autonomy for the school regarding educational and community programming the parent organization and school directors oversee the work of school leadership, policy, financials, and other administrative tasks and responsibilities.
Aspira has about a 25 million dollar operating budget and while there is a portion that comes from government grants, tax dollars, and other public sources these funds are limited because Hostos is a charter school. Mr. Vargas noted, “Most public schools rely on government funding to assist in brick and mortar funding needs, but what about public charter schools who are not normally eligible for such funding? How do we raise awareness and support for the school in the local community” (A. Vargas, personal communication, Sept. 20, 2018)? These were just some of the concerns the principal iterated, as the school was getting ready to embark on its first capital campaign. The organization uses a variety of platforms to secure funding, mainly through the use of social media and an online presence, as well as an active Home and School Association that coordinates several fundraisers throughout the year. However, there was a need to renovate a portion of the school facility to provide more opportunity for its students, parents, and community, so they were going to have to maximize all available outlets to raise funds. Moreover, the board members did not feel comfortable asking for money because the market was saturated with donor requests and admission to the school is strictly lottery-based. This prompted the school to come up with a strategy for its renovation without any state funding and because it could not guarantee parents that their children would be able to attend the school.
“A feasibility study is widely considered to be a key component of the capital campaign process, and that was definitely the case here,” Vargas said (A. Vargas, personal communication, Sept. 20, 2018). Parents, community members, and other stakeholders were asked to participate in the study and provide their thoughts on how to best complete renovations so that the new facility would be an asset to the whole community. This input helped shape the plans so that the finished product would provide a new and much-needed event space for the community. So the school reached out to an outside consulting firm to run the campaign on behalf school, thus relieving the staff, board members, and volunteers of the responsibility. Vargas said that a key component of the campaign was “ to focus on the return on investment that donors would receive by supporting the new facility as well as organize a student-run telethon” (A. Vargas, personal communication, Sept. 20, 2018). The telethon was covered by local radio, SETV, and streamed on a few different social platforms. There was great success because the students were able to raise $100,000 by calling family, friends, and local businesses. Vargas made sure to explain, “While our team provided direction and guidance the credit for success belongs to the students, parents, and teachers who committed their time and energy to the event” (A. Vargas, personal communication, Sept. 20, 2018). Additionally, in just over a year, the school secured nearly $1,600,000 in pledges for the Raise the Roof campaign.
Reflection and Response
First and foremost, I have to say that I enjoyed this project immensely. Having the opportunity to learn more about these amazing organizations that are doing amazing things in the local community is awesome. Also, being able to meet and connect with new people in the community is really special. The bonds we create are not only key to building our businesses and organizations, but they create full and happy lives. With that being said, both of these organizations are the gold standard when it comes to making the lives of people better. In fact, both have so much to offer when it comes to providing services, programs, education, and support. Particularly the focus both organizations place on the community, whether it is specifically part of their mission statement or not, these groups understand the importance of bringing people together to advocate and support each other. Also, with some established avenues of funding as well as exploiting various social platforms and media both organizations are able to set themselves up for success and make an impact toward fulfilling their missions. However, the organization I would most want to work for given the opportunity would be the school. I may be biased as an educator myself, but I was drawn to the marketing approach that Hostos Charter undertook to accomplish their capital campaign.
Additionally, I am a big proponent of being able to include students in activities and efforts that encourage student-centered learning by allowing students to share in decisions and gets them believing in their capacity to lead and make a difference. This is perhaps the most significant contrast to the Community Action Agency and other non-profit organizations like them. Not only was the charter school able to utilize its greatest asset in their marketing campaign, its students, but they also did so in a way that was respectful, educational, as well as guerilla-like in their approach. I also like the application of "Me Marketing vs. You Marketing” as presented by Levinson, Adkins, and Forbes (2010). The idea of turning an inward marketing approach around the other way to gain peoples attention combined with the various social media platforms can be very powerful in creating an exceptional educational experience for all. And while I wouldn't hesitate to work for the CAADC if called upon, I like how the school uses a variety of social media platforms combined with other strategies to drive its culture and create unique value among its community.
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