United Way Education Summit helped bridge gaps

Shannon Nickinson of the Studer Community Institute speaks at the 2017 United Way of Escambia County Education Summit. Credit: United Way of Escambia County.

From hungriness to a lack of available mental health services, student needs are as varied as the students themselves.

Many of these needs are interconnected. When a student lacks food, their focus decreases, which directly affects grades in the classroom.

In 2015, United Way of Escambia County, in partnership with the Escambia County School District, initiated the first Education Summit to connect the School District to resources that many local nonprofits offer.

This year, social workers and nonprofits continued the conversation at United Way’s fourth Education Summit on Thursday, Nov. 16. Studer Community Institute was proud to have been invited to participate for the second year in this important event.

The summit was hosted at Pensacola State College’s Warrington campus.

I was proud to speak about the Institute’s Early Learning City project, our partnership with the University of Chicago’s Thirty Million Words Initiative, and the IMPACT Brain Bag project. I also shared the details our Parent Outreach Program, which is working in partnership with Area Housing Commission and with LENA Research Foundation to get parents the tools and advice they need to bridge the achievement gap and talk more with their young children.

The summit is evidence of the community’s commitment to addressing the needs of our children and opening lines of communication among entities who may be working on similar missions. Events like this make it easier for the community to align resources, avoid duplication of effort and get families who need help in touch with the people who can help them.

The 2017 United Way of Escambia County Education Summit. Credit: United Way of Escambia County.

Sponsored by AT&T, Baptist Health Care, and Gulf Power Co., the Education Summit is a half-day event that creates stronger connections among school guidance counselors, social workers, nonprofit representatives, students, and their families.

This year, representatives from 19 nonprofits shared insights and resources with 46 school district employees representing 26 schools.

Olivia Calloway, representing Pensacola High School, recognized the importance and direct impact that the Education Summit has for the future of Escambia County students and families.

“The information is so vital to guidance counselors, and we share this information with students and families,” Calloway said. “We so appreciate this summit every year.”

The conversations initiated among school district staff and nonprofit representatives bridged the gap between social service needs and the organizations that have access to valuable resources. District staff received USB drives containing information on nonprofit resources that will equip them to make referrals for students and their families.

For my part, I was able to connect to several people who are doing great work in our community who saw a spot where SCI’s work could complement what they have in place. Those are conversations I can’t wait to continue after the holidays.

Because that is how you build a brain, build a life, and build a community — one connection at a time.

School representatives who were unable to attend the summit, and would like a USB, should contact Melissa Lewis at (850) 444-7120 or email