Alabama Schools Superintendent Tommy Bice is a fan of Brighter Minds, the Alabama Power Foundation’s new education initiative. Bice, the keynote speaker at the Brighter Minds Education Summit in Birmingham on Monday, June 16, said the program meshes well with the state Department of Education’s plan for improving K-12 education.
“This partnership with Alabama Power has been invaluable to us,” Bice told the audience of education stakeholders, which included Alabama Power Chairman, CEO and President Mark Crosswhite and many other company leaders. Bice said the state’s plan “fits perfectly with what Brighter Minds has in mind.”
Why Brighter Minds?
“You know, for a lot of us it’s a personal issue,” Crosswhite said, mentioning his 21-year-old and 17-year-old sons. “I want them to stay here. I want them to get a job in Alabama.”
What Brighter Minds plans is to sharpen the foundation’s education focus on three critically important areas for preparing children for college and the workforce: Early childhood education; environmental education classes for students who are in fourth-grade and above; and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and workforce development scholarships for high school students.
Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of External Affairs and the chairman of Gov. Robert Bentley’s Alabama Workforce Council, spoke about the importance of workforce development.
“We understand the challenges with workforce development and we also understand that there is a lot of great work happening throughout the state,” he said. “The goal of the Alabama Workforce Council is to unify all of these efforts so that we can have an even greater impact.”
Having an even greater impact on education is one of the reasons the foundation is trying a new approach, according to Alabama Power Foundation President John Hudson. Investing the foundation’s dollars in those areas will build stronger communities and help children get the skills they need to succeed, said Hudson, vice president of Public Relations and Charitable Giving.
Crosswhite said to get better schools, parents, grandparents, educators, the business community and nonprofit sector all must be involved.
“It’s going to take everyone working together to make sure our children get the right kind of education,” he said.
Bice said the new vision for Alabama’s K-12 schools is for every child to be a graduate, and for every graduate to be prepared for college, work and adulthood in the 21st century.
One of the greatest challenges to that vision is poverty, he said. This past year, public schools served 95 million lunches to children, and 64 percent were free to low-income students. Education is the answer to poverty, and it starts with quality pre-kindergarten, Bice said.
Brighter Minds will support 4-year-olds in high-need communities and engage students through quality summer learning programs that will decrease the learning gap between poor and high-achieving schools and the need for remedial education. Pay for quality early education now, Bice said, “or pay for it forever in our prisons. Because that’s where dropouts end up.”
Brighter Minds also will put funds into classrooms to help students learn about conservation and stewardship. Through the new Students to Stewards program, foundation grants will go to teachers to develop courses on environmental education and to build outdoor classrooms. “We see kids come alive when they’re hands-on in the natural world,” said Tim Gothard, executive director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation and a panelist at the education summit.
Other panelists were Phillip Cleveland, director of the Office of Career and Technical Education/Workforce Development for the state education department; Marquita Davis, executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity; and Jeana Ross, commissioner of the state Department of Children’s Affairs.
Finally, Brighter Minds will help students on the way to college or the workforce. Support for STEM education will allow more students to pursue highly lucrative careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, while workforce development scholarships will reward those who opt for good-paying careers in technical fields and skilled trades.
Alabama Power officials believe Brighter Minds will increase the positive effect the company has on education, which will benefit the state and Alabama Power.
“We have a saying at Alabama Power that if it’s good for the people of Alabama, it’s good for the company,” Crosswhite said.
— Bob Blalock