Financial services company becomes integral part of school community

For companies in the financial sector, success begins with making a good investment. Natixis Global Asset Management (Natixis), a global firm with a Boston office, took this idea to a new level when they collaborated with Mayor Menino to launch the Adopt-a-School program last year.The program enables companies to make a direct and sustained impact on individual schools through support that enhances the learning process. “We can’t think of a better investment than Boston Public Schools,” said Caren Leedom, Executive Vice President of Natixis Global Communications. “To create a workforce that is competitive in this growing global economy means that we need to provide the best public education possible.”

Natixis CEO John Hailer with Mayor Thomas Menino

Natixis CEO John Hailer with Mayor Thomas Menino and Winthrop students

Natixis chose to adopt the John Winthrop Elementary School, a small, under-resourced school serving Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods. About 86% of Winthrop students come from low-income families, and 30% speak English as a second language. Working closely with the City of Boston and the Winthrop’s leadership, the company identified three pressing areas of improvement at the school: technology, facilities, and mentoring. To start, Natixis provided laptops, software, iPads, and Smart Boards for classrooms. As part of the facilities assessment, the company focused on creating a positive learning environment by soundproofing the cafeteria and renovating the outdoor garden. There have been other initiatives as well, including a holiday gift giving program, school supply drives, and a summer volunteer clean-up day.

Yet it is through mentoring that Natixis’s commitment to Winthrop students really shines. A group of dedicated academic mentors travel to the school every Wednesday to participate in Boston Partners in Education’s Power Lunch program. The volunteers work with first grade students on raising confidence levels, improving literacy skills, and cultivating curiosity. “I can speak for the whole group of mentors when I say we look forward to our weekly visits,” said Tracey Flaherty, Senior Vice President of Natixis Government Relations. “There is a ton of excitement when the kids come find us in the library—with hugs and high fives.” Tracey reads to her student, Joseph, while he eats his lunch, and then they play word games. “His favorite is hang man. I try to stump him, but usually he guesses right,” she said.

Natixis volunteer Dave Jilek with his mentee Tashi

Natixis volunteer Dave Jilek with his mentee

Natixis volunteers are able to serve eight students in three classrooms. According to the teachers, they see marked differences in their students. “The program has enabled my students to develop relational skills and deepen their communication with other adults,” first grade teacher Anne Roman said. “The students are proud to share their accomplishments at Power Lunch with their peers.” Her fellow teacher Sharon Radcliffe agreed, citing the one-on-one attention as the key ingredient for growth.

However, the pay-off is not just for the first graders. “Our employees have gained as much from the initiative as the students and it’s something we hope to continue to grow,” Caren said. Tracey agreed, saying she feels that she has “accomplished something worthwhile” after Power Lunch and is excited to “continue nurturing and encouraging Joseph’s love of reading” next year.

Natixis hopes that the scope of the Adopt-a-School program will become broader than the positive change they have initiated at the Winthrop School. The company views it as a one-of-a-kind chance to transform how the business world approaches public education. “We hope to work with the City to promote and grow the program in every key sector of the economy in Boston,” Caren said. “We’d like to get more businesses involved with different schools, and we hope that this program will eventually become a national model for private business partnerships in public education. It truly is an investment that will pay off for years to come,” she added.