Disney Plans Initiative To Aid Poor Schools, Staff Development

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The Walt Disney Co. planned to play fairy godmother to schools and their teachers around the nation this week, with the unveiling of a multimillion-dollar education initiative.

What is being called the Disney Learning Partnership will aid underserved schools, build school collaboratives, finance professional-development opportunities, and foster partnerships between parents and educators, company officials said.

According to a draft document, Disney planned to spend $20 million on the initiative. A spokesman stressed late last week, however, that a firm figure had not yet been set.

"The magic of Disney has always been our ability to awaken children’s curiosity and sense of wonder," a draft statement from the Burbank, Calif.-based company said. "That same ability goes into creative teaching strategies that engage students in effective learning. Disney Learning Partnership is our company’s flagship philanthropic effort to help develop learning environments that cultivate the imagination of every child."

The partnership, which was to be announced Nov. 15 in Los Angeles, would allocate $6 million to help 32 schools in underserved areas create thematic, project-based curricula, primarily in reading, mathematics, and science, the draft document said. The money would also be used for teacher professional development and to nurture deeper connections among parents, community members, and schools.

Schools would receive between $110,000 and $300,000 each to be used over a three-year period, according to the draft. Those that chose to form a consortium would receive between $450,000 and $600,000 during that time, it said.

Disney officials declined to provide breakdowns for the other projects the company will underwrite.

Disney will also join with Johns Hopkins University’s Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, located in Baltimore, in an attempt to involve parents in their children’s educations and foster relationships with teachers, said Laurie Lang, the senior vice president and general manager for the initiative.

The company will work to further public dialogue on the importance of creative teaching strategies by airing a series of public-service announcements on the topic, Ms. Lang said. A site on the Internet, www.DisneyLearning.org, will serve as a forum for teachers to form networks.

The money will also be used in conjunction with Harvard University’s graduate school of education to produce a series of videotapes and written materials on teaching methods.

‘Logical Move’

The entire Disney Learning Partnership will reach an estimated 50,000 teachers in the first year, Ms. Lang said.

"We’re very, very pleased that [Disney] has been willing to step up to the plate and provide sorely needed assistance," Bob Chase, the president of the National Education Association, said last week. "Professional development is something people have been crying for for a long time," he added.

Mr. Chase, who planned to be in California for the formal announcement of the initiative, advised Disney on some aspects of the project.

Experts say the Disney initiative is part of a trend that started about five years ago in which corporations began to focus on subsidizing professional development for teachers.

Companies have long provided resources such as books and other educational media, and helping teachers grow as professionals is the next step, said Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University.

Disney’s "foray into the marketplace is a logical move," Mr. Levine said. "They’ve been in the education business since their first cartoon."

Vol. 19, Issue 12, Page 8

Published in Print: November 17, 1999, as Disney Plans Initiative To Aid Poor Schools, Staff Development
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