Businesses Lend a Helping Hand To Budget-Strapped US Schools

Firms like Burger King contribute funds, even strategic planning

MIRIAM MUNIZ used to cut classes. Kimberly Stoeckle and Adlai Allen just didn't go to school.

But last November the three teenagers started to get more personalized counseling and extra tutoring. Their parents made certain they didn't just sit around the house watching television. Now, Miriam is working on her resume and dreams of becoming an interpreter at the United Nations; Kimberly is hoping to become a beautician; and Adlai, who wants to become a professional athlete, is attending classes.

What's making the difference for these teens? Corporate involvement.

Last November, Burger King Corporation contributed $65,000 to set up a ``Burger King Academy'' at William Penn High School here to reach teens who were at risk of dropping out. The teens, their parents, and the academy all signed contracts detailing what they agreed to accomplish.

After the first year, the local Burger King franchisee agreed to raise the money to keep the program going. The funds go toward such purposes as computer programs, counseling, tutors, and extra teachers.

Such corporate involvement in education is growing. ``We are seeing more and more companies wanting to become directly involved in the schools,'' says Sean Milliken, special assistant to the vice president of program development at Cities in Schools Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that set up the program used by Burger King.

In its annual survey of corporations, the Council for Aid to Education in New York estimates that United States corporations gave all educational institutions a total of $2.43 billion in 1991, up 4 percent from the previous year. While most of that funding went to higher education, the 410 companies that answered the survey said they gave about $316 million to elementary and secondary schools. Those numbers do not reflect the value of mentoring, tutoring, or the use of facilities provided by companies.

For example, Proctor & Gamble has become deeply involved in federal, state, and local educational strategy. Bob Wehling, vice president for public affairs, estimates that he spends 20 hours a week on education, and John Pepper, the consumer giant's president, spends 10 hours a week.

``The more people who are involved in-depth, including business people, the sooner we will solve the problem,'' says Mr. Wehling, who serves on an educational task force interacting with each of the 50 states.

The corporate effort is partly altruistic. But increasingly the effort is also for corporate self-preservation. ``A company committed to living in one city cannot stand a city that is filled with dangerous young people,'' says Paul Hill, a senior social scientist at the RAND Corporation in Washington, D.C. He says corporations bring an atmosphere of ``crisis and discontent,'' which causes cities to look more closely at their educational failures.

As some corporations are finding, however, making a difference in education can be as difficult as solving tough business problems. For years, the business community has tried to help schools with trips to the zoo or the purchase of video equipment.

``The business community discovered that that type of spending did not make a big difference, so now it has taken a more strategic stance,'' Mr. Hill says.

For example, in 1989 CIGNA, an insurance company based in Philadelphia, decided to get more involved with primary and secondary education. Its CIGNA Foundation committed $1.5 million over three years to support five inner-city schools. The money went toward staff development, student incentives, supplies, and mental-health services.

CIGNA has become involved in strategic issues as well. ``We are not just trying to provide handouts, but we are trying to work with home management, work on shared decision-making, preparing the leadership for its roles,'' says Carole Thompson, director of civic affairs at the CIGNA Foundation.

Last spring, CIGNA's program, underwent a review. Ms. Thompson, director of civic affairs at the CIGNA Foundation, says, ``We have not focused enough on any one school to make a dramatic difference.'' The review, she says, ``will help us find out what worked and what didn't work and how CIGNA can best help.''

Burger King's efforts were also redirected. ``About five years ago, the top officers were unhappy with the impact of our funds - it was too scattered in education to make a difference. We wanted to go after one area where we could make an impact,'' says Rick Fallon, director of corporate involvement at Burger King.

The review resulted in Burger King's involvement with Cities in Schools. Two years ago Burger King hired Evaluation Designs for Education (EDE), an independent evaluation firm based in Miami, to review its academies. EDE concluded that the program ``was successful in affecting attendance, academic performance, and self-esteem.'' It found that parents, students, and teachers all agreed that the program had changed students' attitudes toward school.

Changes in the students may not be reflected immediately in standard measurements, such as grade-point average, says Maria Isabel Panizo of EDE. ``Part of the change may include a willingness to go to school, to wake up and bring their books,'' she says. Dr. Panizo counsels corporations to be patient. ``You won't have a quick return. Education is a long-term process,'' she states.

The review encouraged Burger King, which plans to expand the concept from 26 to 40 schools this fall at a total cost of $3 million to $4 million.

If the Burger King program is successful, one of the reasons is people like Quinton Sterling, the Cities and Schools coordinator at William Penn High School. Mr. Sterling, a retired principal, makes sure the 14 teens registered in the program attend classes, helps them prepare their resumes, and often counsels them like a father. He does the same thing with 26 teens who work during the day and take classes between 3 and 5 p.m.

``I'm a motivator, a cheerleader. I'm trying to give the kids self-esteem so they believe in themselves, so they realize success from there,'' Sterling says.

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