U2L Background Info
United to Learn (U2L) was founded by Abigail Williams, who created the concept based on her personal experience as a product of public education and later a private school parent and public school volunteer. Given the silos that exist across Dallas, Abby realized the untapped opportunity to activate Dallas’ abundant talent and resources within a customized and proximate model to provide more equitable opportunities for ALL students.
At U2L we believe that our city’s prosperity can be shared more equitably as more students are prepared for college and career success, thus we embrace our responsibility to address resource gaps in public education to achieve a more equitable, prosperous community. Knowing that a child who is reading on grade level at 3rd grade is three times more likely to achieve long-term sustained academic success, U2L has defined 3rd-grade literacy as our North Star metric.
U2L partner schools have seen significant literacy achievement as demonstrated by Texas Education Agency (“TEA”)-administered STAAR 3rd grade reading tests, with a growth of 39% over the five years preceding COVID, outpacing achievement seen across Dallas ISD, county, and state. Despite significant learning losses experienced nationwide in response to COVID disruptions, U2L partner schools saw only limited regression, approximately 50% of the losses seen across the District and County. Based on our success in building relationships and driving student achievement, Dallas ISD invited U2L to expand to reach more students and campuses in need. In the 2020-2021 school year, United to Learn welcomed 21 partner elementary schools in Southern Dallas, representing a 64% increase over last year in students and educators served.
United to Learn now supports 2,100 educators and 36,326 students, reflecting half of all elementary students in Dallas ISD. Our partner schools are located citywide, with concentrations across Dallas ISD’s Northwest Clusters as well as feeder patterns across Southern Dallas. Of our 36,326 supported students, 90% live in poverty, 55% are English language learners, and despite significant gains in recent years, an alarming majority of fourth-grade students are not reading on grade level. Equally concerning, 90% have experienced prolonged trauma, enduring multiple adverse childhood experiences which can alter the structure of a child’s brain, creating additional barriers to learning and academic success if left unaddressed. The racial demographics of our supported students reflect 22% Black, 70% Hispanic, and 8% Other. Of our students, 49% are female and 51% are male.
United to Learn is made up of full-time and part-time staff and contractors. We are governed by a Board of Directors and receive guidance throughout the year from an active Advisory Council.
Volunteers are intrinsic to the fabric of United to Learn. Twenty-eight hundred students, business professionals, and community volunteers contributed over 17,800 hours during the 2021-2022 school year, serving as school liaisons, tutoring young learners, completing campus improvement projects, distributing meals to families, and executing teacher appreciation initiatives, among other important roles.
Named to honor the enduring legacy of visionary, thought-partner, the Serena Connelly U2L Liaisons are a central component of our collaborative model. Each dedicated U2L Liaison us paired with an individual campus. U2L Liaisons keep us abreast of the present successes and challenges schools experience so that our support can be nimbly tailored to each school’s evolving needs.
Through our Community Activation programming, we inform, empower, and engage high school and college students and adults to understand systemic inequities that remain to be addressed, creating lifelong advocates for public education and building purposeful leaders who can find their role in eradicating those inequities.
Theory of Change
United to Learn’s Theory of Change was developed in the 2020 Strategic planning process to outline the causal linkages in our work and define our pathway to desired outcomes, with corresponding interim measures of progress toward our ultimate goals. In our work, we leverage our unique strengths and resources to establish and facilitate consistent and streamlined communication between schools and community partners. The inherent flexibility of our model is anchored in careful listening to the micro and macro communities of our schools and allows us to better understand the unique circumstances faced by each campus. Dedicated Serena Connelly U2L Liaisons who are paired with each individual campus provide a solid foundation as thought partners to each elementary school, bridging interactions among partners. These trusted liaison relationships provide vital input for the experienced United to Learn staff who then create tailored programming within our pillars to address opportunity gaps, provide resources and meet specific needs.
Together, our highly engaged network strives to accelerate student achievement while also developing purposeful leaders to support a united and thriving community.
Unique Role in the Education Ecosystem
U2L is the only organization in Dallas that brings together Dallas ISD, investing partners and other nonprofits to jointly focus on accelerating student achievement while also building purposeful community leaders. With key Dallas ISD relationships, from the campus level to district management through to the superintendent’s office, United to Learn’s efficient model is in sync with District priorities, complementing and never duplicating other support efforts. United to Learn’s unique listen-first model enables us to customize programs to the ever-changing needs of our U2L schools.
This unique position as an external thought partner to both our Dallas ISD partner schools and our community partners allows us to embrace separate organizational and individual objectives in order to align with a more substantive vision of student achievement and shared community prosperity. Time and again, our activated United to Learn network has stood alone in the gap, filling campus-specific needs of our schools with expert programming and available volunteer and social capital within the private sector. Our staff is composed of industry leaders, who both hear the challenges of our partner schools and appreciate the level of rigor necessary to design programs that drive student achievement.
Our ability to steward relationships among our school and community partners and meaningfully accelerate student achievement was most recently evidenced by the District’s invitation to double our footprint of partner schools as well as selecting U2L for Dallas ISD’s Jeanne Fagadau Leading the Charge Award. Given the looming unfinished learning and impact to social and emotional health posed by the evolving COVID pandemic, we eagerly accepted the invitation by accessing our proven army of industry experts and empathetic community volunteers to uplift students and step in where limited public dollars stop.