The Right Time And Place For Students To Launch Their Future

Guest Correspondence

We believe that old adage that there’s “no time like the present!”

In announcing the exciting opening of LaunchPad4U, a beta space described below, we are acknowledging that, despite all challenges and changes of this time, we together have a unique opportunity to solve problems in innovative ways. It’s a moment to reimagine how we prepare our youth to navigate the new world they will inhabit.

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,” Albert Einstein said.

For some time, we at the Education Foundation of Sarasota County have recognized that we must think about how to build a network of support for students to creatively tackle 21st century challenges that we are just beginning to grasp. After all, we are depending on them to lead us into the future, and they are relying on us to prepare them to graduate with purpose, fully ready for life.   This obligation, by itself, is not new; each generation inherits the responsibility from the one before. The difference is that the present disorder, hastened by the coronavirus, has made it clear that today’s unprecedented challenges cannot be met by falling back on traditional solutions that worked in the past. These challenges can be daunting. We need to respond to the pandemic and its unsettling effects on students and families. Yet the coronavirus also has served to focus and speed up plans that were already in motion.

Over the last several years we have conducted focus groups, surveys, interviews and one-on-one conversations with people across our community to learn how we might help better prepare students for life. More recently, we convened a consortium of community and education partners — people with diverse talents and perspectives who committed to listen carefully and try out different strategies.

Together, we asked: What if our strategy included an approach to help students uncover their purpose and develop resilience through experiential learning and mentoring? What if every student had the resources they needed, whether they be personal advising, 1:1 mentoring, or practical resources to enable them to optimize their full potential by creating an actionable plan beyond high school? What if parents had easy access to parenting education and enrichment and social-emotional learning opportunities for their children? What if teachers had a place to further their professional learning and support and share with their colleagues?

Of course, we don’t have all the answers yet, but it has become clear there is a need for a space that would provide the critical ability to work creatively with students, families and teachers in real time to find them. The in-person aspect is especially important right now. While quickly adapting to the pandemic shutdown and making many of our resources available in digital format, we realized that not all students have access to technologies to meet virtually for services. And they tend to be the students and families who need our services the most.

We’re proud to announce the opening of LaunchPad4U, a beta site, or learning lab, that will allow us to try out potential solutions that help students, teachers and parents, with a focus on helping prevent students from falling behind. LaunchPad4U is designed to serve as an extension of the effective work being done in the Student Success Centers in partnering high schools, fulfilling the “what if?” questions we posed during reimagining exercises. We also anticipate providing students and volunteer mentors with meeting space where they can build relationships with one another; using workshop space for experimental learning activities; and convening community partner work groups that are members of the collective, PLANit Sarasota.

In short, LaunchPad4U will expand our impact and outreach by creating a collaborative space where students, families, and teachers can connect with mentors, educators and professionals from our community to make informed decisions about their academic and personal future. The diligence and commitment of our board of directors and many volunteers have helped bring this important and timely concept to life. It will take community involvement to sustain it and realize its full potential. The need to act expeditiously for our students has become clear. For our community’s and students’ future, we all need to lean in, collaborate, co-design and innovate together.

We invite your input and support as, together, we claim this as the right time to make a real difference for our students and support them as they launch their futures. Please visit to learn more.

Brock Leach is chair of the board of directors, Education Foundation of Sarasota County. Jennifer Vigne is president and CEO, Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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