United Way’s Success By 6 Celebrates Decade of Work

CAMPBELL, Ohio – Jennifer Gonzalez enjoys being around children and seeing their firsts in education. 

“This age is the best,” said the Campbell K-7 School teacher. “You see them learn to write their name. You see them struggle to read and by the end of the year we’re reading books. You see everything happen and it’s so rewarding.”

The Success By 6 initiative, launched locally by the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley 10 years ago, allows children preparing to enter kindergarten to transition into the regular school year with ease. By the time it starts, students are comfortable with school because they see familiar faces, which can help lower their anxiety, Gonzalez said. 

“They’ve already met the principals. They’ve partaken in the cafeteria. They’ve met the bus drivers. I feel like we take that anxiety out,” she said. “On top of that, we focus on the academics that are basic for the beginning of the school year to get them familiar with what’s going to be expected of them.” 

Campbell K-7 School teacher Jennifer Gonzalez says Success By 6 has helped ease students’ anxiety about coming to school.

Since its launch, the program has served more than 5,000 students in the Mahoning Valley. Tuesday’s celebration was part of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley’s year-long celebration of the national organization’s centennial.

“The program helps children who aren’t quite ready for kindergarten go through a four week summer boot camp,” said Bob Hannon, president of the local United Way. “It’s an academic program, but also social and emotional, getting acclimated to the school, knowing their teachers.” 

Success By 6 began in two school districts: South Range and Campbell. Today, more than 19 school districts in the Mahoning Valley offer the program to more than 700 preschoolers each summer. This year, the United Way is providing $225,000 to fund 50 classrooms in Mahoning County, including in Girard, Liberty and Hubbard. 

“We get feedback from teachers that say, ‘The kids who go through the program, they come the first day of kindergarten and they’re ready to go,’ ” Hannon said. “It was a pilot 10 years ago and when you get the teachers to step up and take time out of their summer to work the program, they believe it’s working for the students.”

PNC Bank is the presenting sponsor for this year’s centennial celebration. When Hannon started the program, it piqued the interest of Ted Schmidt, regional president of PNC Bank, because of the bank’s Grow Up Great program. 

The Grow Up Great program supports education initiatives. An additional $150 million will be used to extend the program to celebrate it’s 15th anniversary.

“After seeing the success that Bob had, we joined as the corporate sponsor and we’ve never looked back,” Schmidt said. “It’s a great partnership that builds on children within the community to make them more vibrant and successful throughout their life and their careers.” 

Staff at United Way wanted to make a shift from being primarily a fundraiser to doing more impact work. When Hannon had a meeting with the school’s superintendents before the program’s start, he learned there was a void with children going to kindergarten. 

“Everyone gets tested, but those who aren’t ready, there’s really no program for them unless their families can do preschool, which can be expensive,” he said. “We model our program similar to Mercer County. Every year we try to add something. We’ve added nutritional tracks, responsibility tracks. We don’t want it to become stale.” 

Initially, only four hours of just academics were included in the program, but it has been evolving ever since its launch. Over the years, tracks have been added in social and emotional learning, physical fitness, meals and outside groups. 

Many students, in the Success By 6 program will move on to the Success After 6 program, which offers enrichment programs, tutoring, health screenings, food pantries and more. 

Success After 6 started Youngstown Community School for the 2015-16 school year and has since expanded into 13 schools, including Harding, Kirkmere, Volney and McGuffey elementaries. 

“We’ve taken it from initially thinking it had to be four hours of reading, writing and math to more of a holistic approach,” Hannon said. “By doing that, kids can’t wait to come back. If anything, we would like to go younger. How do we get two- and three- and even four-year-olds better prepared to go to kindergarten?

Pictured: United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley President and PNC Bank regional president Ted Schmidt joined students at Campbell K-7 School to celebrate the program’s 10th anniversary.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.