Aimed at starting the day with a smile, students at McLain High School walk into school each day to "power greetings" delivered by City Year Tulsa AmeriCorp members and, regularly, Bank of Oklahoma and BOK Financial® volunteers. With the goal of supporting learning environments where all students can succeed, City Year programs start the day by setting a tone of joy and belonging in partnership with schools they serve.
"Tulsa students know when people believe in them and value a community of supporters, like City Year and Bank of Oklahoma, showing up cheering for their success," said Angela Steele, City Year Tulsa impact director. More than 1,400 students receive one-on-one coaching in attendance, social-emotional behavior, math or English through the City Year Tulsa program.
The program is paying off—students in City Year schools are two to three times more likely to improve on English and math; and students are learning to self-advocate and take ownership over their social-emotional skills.
"Being involved with City Year has been so inspiring," said board member Jeff Hall, energy banking manager at BOK Financial. "This organization identifies challenges and deploys resources in just the right places to really move the needle for schools, neighborhoods and entire communities."
A key element of the City Year program model is placing AmeriCorp members, typically young people right out of high school or college, or possibly taking a gap year, in the classrooms. BOK Financial's program sponsorship is supporting a team of AmeriCorps members placed in McLain High School.
"I am amazed at the AmeriCorps members who are putting others before themselves as they begin their professional lives," Hall said. "There is not a better lesson to be learned than when you put someone else first—and these young people are working their tails off and inspiring student success each day."
Embedded in the community
Tulsa Equity Indicators shows that higher-income high schools receive school report card scores 2.5 times higher than lower-income schools. McLain High School is located in the historically black North Tulsa neighborhood, which has historically been under resourced.
The Equity Indicators also shows a significant disparity in income between North and South Tulsa residents, with only 37.9% of North Tulsans living above 200% of the poverty level while 72.7% of South Tulsans meet that threshold.
Data from the Tulsa Blueprint for Economic Prosperity showed that low-income residents faced significant challenges to financial stability—difficulty accessing information or services, language barriers, transportation, affordable housing, childcare and education.
"We have chosen to partner with organizations serving North Tulsa with the intention of serving the full community," said Scott Robin, community engagement manager at BOK Financial. "As a financial institution, financial stability is important to us, but we understand that it's related to everything else in life—food, housing, childcare, education."
Another program that serves the whole community in North Tulsa is the Tulsa Dream Center, which is focused on breaking the cycle of poverty through programs focused on education, economic growth and social services.
The key to both of these programs' success is connection. "Relationships are key to the world," Hall said. "I can see what a difference the consistency is making to the students being supported through City Year. Time is the most crucial resource any of us can give to others."
“Relationships are key to the world. I can see what a difference the consistency is making to the students being supported through City Year. Time is the most crucial resource any of us can give to others.”- Jeff Hall, City Year board member
Ashley Pratt, group solution center leader at BOK Financial and Tulsa Dream Center volunteer, echoes Hall's sentiment, "It takes a village—life skills are not something any one person can teach."
That village is often key to a young person's success. Each "village" looks a little different, and BOK Financial and Bank of Oklahoma are aiming to support North Tulsa through philanthropic contributions, employee volunteerism and engagement.
The company has helped fund a program coordinator for the Tulsa Dream Center Community Policing Program, which bridges the gap between law enforcement and young people. "Our goal in having events through this program is so that we can bridge the gap between our two communities by creating great mentor relationships now. It's an honor to facilitate the gathering of our communities," said Tim Newton, executive director of the Tulsa Dream Center.
The aim is to help build community while lending support from multiple angles, Robin said. "If we can help create space for positive interactions with people in uniform engaging with youth and also provide expertise on financial education topics, hopefully, we have added value."
These community engagement efforts include students from elementary through high school, supporting the parents and guardians of those students, and even providing support to adults through financial programs.
“Our Learn for Life program is intended to go far beyond financial education.”- Scott Robin, community engagement manager at BOK Financial
Company volunteers are going into the classroom to help students learn about financial well-being and even careers in the industry.
"Building a foundation of good financial knowledge is so important," said Pratt. "Conversations about money—especially early in a child's life—are really empowering. Being able to support those conversations in schools is important." Pratt volunteers by sharing her knowledge of the financial services industry with students in the classroom.
"Understanding credit, the importance of saving, consolidating debt and other financial basics will really give people a jump start," she said. "My main goal is to pass on some knowledge that could possibly help a young person understand what options they have as they get older."
Learn more about Bank of Oklahoma's community involvement in their Community Report.