It started with a problem. In the spring of 2010, a directive from the Joplin Schools Board of Education laid out the expectation that Dr. CJ Huff, the new superintendent, get the graduation rate up! Like so many communities across the nation, many Joplin students struggle with poverty and often a lack of parental involvement. Teachers spent much of their time and often their own money trying to meet students’ basic needs. It became evident that to meet the strategic goal of graduating more Joplin students, their most basic needs would have to be met first. But how? First, low graduation rates were identified as a community issue, not just a school issue. For the Joplin community to flourish and thrive, the schools needed to supply citizens who would flourish and thrive. To solve the problem would take a community effort. Second, Joplin Schools engaged the community through several meetings and school visits to openly share the challenges faced by students, families, and teachers and to identify existing community resources. Admitting to problems and asking for help was an uncomfortable but necessary step.
Finally, Joplin Schools worked with the community to create a program that became known as Bright Futures. Bright Futures developed systems and structures that rapidly connected existing community resources with students and families in need through the school system. Initially, a grant from the Economic Security Corporation of Southwest Missouri funded a position within the schools to act as a liaison between the school and community groups.
Within the first year, unexpected and exciting results occurred. The dropout rate decreased, attendance increased, and student and staff morale improved. As the program evolved in Joplin, word spread. Several nearby districts expressed interest in applying the Bright Futures framework in their communities.