I didn’t know what an engineer was until I was in college. I knew what a nurse did, because my mom was a nurse. It wasn’t until college that I had access to the worlds beyond that of my home or the small town I grew up in.

I’m not alone. Throughout Florida, thousands of students ripe with potential don’t know of all opportunities they can chase.  And for children living in poverty, their access to these opportunities can be extraordinarily limited, as heavy baggage like hunger, homelessness and untreated mental health challenges, among a number of challenges can keep them from dreaming and achieving.

In Florida, 773,801 children live in poverty – that’s nearly 1 in 5. This number becomes all the more sobering when you consider it has been estimated that students who battle poverty are up to five times more likely to drop out of school.

Consider the gravity of that wasted potential. How many potential nurses, educators, engineers, entrepreneurs and economists are we losing? How can we hope to sustain a growing economy without building talent here in Florida?

A child’s zip code or family income should not threaten their ability to thrive, to reach their full potential. It should not determine their access to opportunities, whether it be health care or a high quality education. It should not define their future.

And it doesn’t have to.

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Prosperity Project is working to identify the unique challenges children face throughout each of Florida’s 983 zip codes, and work with business and community leaders to provide thoughtful resources and interventions to ensure each child in Florida has an equal opportunity at earned success. When we identify these potential solutions, we dub them “promising practices,” that we believe are ripe for replication across communities in Florida.

One of those most promising “promising practices,” is Community Partnership Schools.

The Community Partnership SchoolsTM model addresses the very barriers threatening children’s academic – even lifetime – success. Understanding that education is the great equalizer, Community Partnership Schools raise the ground floor to provide a high quality education, and essential life resources, to all students – regardless of their zip codes.

Taking a holistic approach to education, the model brings together high-quality academics, health care, mental health counseling, mentoring and more right on site at the school, providing easily accessible services and resources to students struggling with heavy burdens that may otherwise interfere with their education.

Supporting children’s education through this holistic approach isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s an economically sound decision to build a stronger workforce and a stronger Florida.

I was first introduced to the model through Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS), a co-founder and strategic partner in the model along with the University of Central Florida. The more you learn about it, the more you see CHS is on to something — something highly replicable, with a demonstrated return on investment and built to change the trajectory of lives.

They start with a long-term partnership with the school district, a college or university, and a health care provider. CHS leads community collaboration to bring resources and opportunities to students and families within the school – that includes businesses, community leaders and working professionals.

While some business leaders engage on a strategic level with the Community Partnership Schools’ Community Leadership Councils, others are hands-on with students as mentors, coaches or through providing internships.

The deeper you get involved, the more you see the intentionality, scale and scope of services that make this unique program such a strong investment.

Say you invest in a reading program that provides books and tutoring to school in an underserved community. It’s a worthy cause, but it does not by itself solve the problem. Take for example the fact that we have schools in Florida were only 5% of students are reading at great level. While these students battle challenges in the classroom each day, the root cause of the challenge my steam from outside the classroom. What if that child lives in a health care desert? What if the student need glasses – but can’t afford them? What if the child has a “super hero” parent that works long hours to support their family, but there is a lack of available afterschool programing in the community? The challenges go on.

While advancing literacy is an irrefutable investment, imagine the difference you could make if you invested in a Community Partnership School … where you can  address root causes of the challenge.  You could align your resources with others to create a greater impact.

What’s more – the long-term ROI is felt with a stronger talent pool. And, when you’re deeply connected,  Community Partnership Schools allow businesses  to connect directly with this future talent pool.

Arenas in the public sector, like education, evolve much slower than the dynamic fast-paced business world. But by getting involved in the schools, businesses help bring students up to speed. Whether a technical trade, small local business or a Fortune 500 company, investing in Community Partnership Schools will help your business long-term.

It’s all about setting children up for successful futures, successful careers and successful lives.

The results are proven.

With Community Partnership Schools, thousands of economically disadvantaged students are experiencing learning gains and surpassing statewide graduation rates.

  • Florida’s Graduation Rate for Economically Disadvantaged Students: 87.2 percent
  • Community Partnership Schools Graduation Rate: 95 percent

As a whole, the business community is made up of doers – we take action and get results. When it comes to investments, business leaders want to ensure their dollars are working to create solutions. Community Partnership Schools can be one of the solutions as we work to ensure childhood poverty, and ones zip code, doesn’t dictate an individuals future.

I call on my peers in the business community to create the change you want to see,  to make a sound investment in the next generation – do good and do good business.

Community Partnership Schools inspire momentum, opportunities and thriving communities. Together, we can create real and lasting change.