Non-profit Spotlight: Public Education Partnership
The Public Education Partnership (PEP) began in 2011 when Doug Lockwood had the vision to do whatever was possible to help improve Polk’s public schools and thereby help the students. After interviewing more than 100 teachers, a report was created and a plan of action was determined. Audrey Nettlow has voluntarily served as the Executive Director of PEP and has been the spark that has kept this initiative actively achieving goals.
Several accomplishments thus far have involved a wonderful partnership with the City of Winter Haven, which agreed to provide a facility that was seldom used, located at 203 Avenue R N.E. For two years students from Garner, Garden Grove, and Elbert elementary schools have been tutored after school. The Learning Resource Center provides the teachers, and the Polk County School Board provides funds for the teaching component.
PEP volunteers sought and obtained more than 4,000 books from organizations and community residents, which are used at the PEP Education Center. City staff have proactively gotten the books out to children during the summer on their Fun on the Run vans.
Prior to school being out in 2015, PEP saw to it that nine Little Free Libraries were placed at various schools and at the PEP Education Center. Currently, every elementary school has a Little Free Library, as well as Westwood and Denison middle schools. Members of the community stepped up to provide funds to have the libraries built, and donations of $300 to each school were given to provide books. The libraries were built by local carpenters who did it simply for the cost of the materials.
PEP was instrumental in getting the Cambridge International School at Winter Haven High School, which is comparable to IB (International Baccalaureate) but many teachers feel it gives students even more flexible than traditional IB. The program begins this fall at WHHS. We are so fortunate to have teacher Nikki Jordan leading this new program, along with the very supportive principal Gina Williams.
Career Connection is a two year old PEP initiative. It gives students a real life look at what a career is like to ensure this is the one they want to pursue, and more than 200 high school students have taken advantage of it. Community members have volunteered to spend time with individual students who are interested in their career.
Another focus of PEP has been the Career Academies at the middle and high schools in the county and many have been created as a result of PEP’s encouragement. These academies give students a wonderful opportunity to learn while working in areas that really interest them. Some of the disciplines include medical, culinary, law, finance, multimedia, and journalism.
PEP has sought out “best practices” and has shared them at the monthly Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, where all principals participate. They have found remarkable efforts that can be duplicated at Pinewood, Garden Grove, Chain of Lakes, and Snively elementary schools. Outstanding Physical Education best practices have also been found at several area schools.
To encourage the arts, PEP has invited school students to perform in downtown Winter Haven’s central park Pickin’ in the Park each month. Crowds gather to encourage and support the students. PEP knows that national research reveals that students involved in the arts score on average 100 points higher on SAT exams.
Every child born at the Winter Haven Hospital Women’s Hospital gets the book “Goodnight Moon,” thanks to PEP, as getting parents and children to know the importance of reading from day one is vitally important.
PEP has encouraged the Early Learning Coalition (ELC) to publicize the STAR rating of Child Care Centers, and billboards with the info are the result. Centers that voluntarily participate in the Quality Improvement Rating System, get one to five stars, depending on the assessment.
Want to make a difference and volunteer to continue these positive accomplishments? Call PEP at 863-297-9387 or visit WHPEP.org.