Noggin Educational Foundation believes in a world where every student is empowered to reach their full potential, no matter their economic situation. Based in Dallas, Texas, this charitable organization provides valuable educational resources to students — and their families — including free tutoring, special education consulting, summer enrichment, and career exploration.
Rimini Street is joined by Doneda Bailey, founder and executive director of Noggin Educational Foundation, who is responsible for changing the lives of thousands of students with the support of her growing team and volunteers.
Rimini Street Foundation: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. We have so many questions! Let’s start with your inspiration for Noggin Educational Foundation.
Doneda: When my husband, David, began his career as an educator, he was shocked to discover the obstacles preventing students from receiving access to quality education. His first teaching assignment took place in a very under-resourced school where he was given one ream of copy paper to accommodate 125 students for the entire semester! Witnessing the lack of resources and seeing students who were two to three grade levels behind struggle to keep up left an indelible impression on him.
David’s next teaching assignment was the opposite of the first. This school was in an affluent area where he had almost unlimited resources, and his students displayed academic excellence from the start of the semester. Hearing story after story about his students, the achievement gap created by access to resources became very apparent to us. And we knew we had to do something about it. And that’s where Noggin Educational Foundation began its story.
Rimini Street Foundation: How would you summarize the impact of education and educational resource disparity?
Doneda: The lack of resources for teachers in a low-income area especially is a terrible, cyclical problem. Low-income areas have lower property taxes, which directly affects the education fund pool. Students with vastly limited resources perform worse on standardized tests than their peers in high-income areas and are more likely to be absent or held back, which further impacts a school’s funding. Post-COVID, the disparity between low- and high-income districts has become wider. This has also impacted teachers, who are now dealing with mental and emotional stresses stemming from the pandemic, not to mention financial.
Many teachers will use funds from their own pockets to find resources for their classrooms. On average, a teacher will spend upward of $750 of their own money per class per year to help their students succeed. And this figure has been rising consistently over the past decade.
Rimini Street Foundation: And access to technology equipment must also be difficult.
Doneda: Technology is a mainstay in all of our lives, and computer literacy is incredibly important for young students. Most schools need funding for new laptops and computer resources and for the maintenance of these instruments. Many schools are moving away from textbooks and are instead embracing computers, because they are much more scalable tools. Schools now need bigger IT departments to handle the influx of questions from students and teachers. There simply isn’t enough funding to train everyone on the latest hardware or software that they are expected to use to teach or to learn.
Rimini Street Foundation: How many students and teachers do you support today?
Doneda: We support an average of 1,000 students each year and work with around 10 teachers. We provide support to teachers by hiring them, giving them additional income to make ends meet or have some expendable income. Teachers in low-income regions are not well-compensated, and yet they still spend their own money to supplement what is needed in their classrooms. The profession has been a tough one these past few years, and we try to make teachers feel appreciated, supported, and valued for the work they do in the classroom and especially for our students.
Rimini Street Foundation: Are there requirements for parents to have their children participate in the program?
Doneda: We focus on cultivating relationships with parents and have evolved as an organization that wraps around our families. There are many challenges that can get in the way of academic success, and we are working hard to build relationships that make us trusted advocates with the parents who directly impact their children’s everyday possibilities.
We have recently begun an advisory council that allows us to partner with professionals in different areas. These individuals are available to help us direct parents to resources that address needs such as mental health and wellness, civil law concerns, social and emotional learning, etc. In addition, our Special Education Advocacy program pairs a professional advocate with a parent to ensure their child with a special need or learning disability receives services to assist them in the classroom.
Recently one of our students reached out to me on behalf of his mom to tell me that she wanted to learn to speak English. We found a free ESL class nearby and asked her son’s tutor who is fluent in Spanish to help her register. Her class begins in a few weeks, and we’re excited to see how this positively impacts the entire family!
Rimini Street Foundation: The SMART Goals and Growth Mindset Kit we saw on your website looks AMAZING! How did this come together, and how are students, teachers, and parents leveraging this tool?
Doneda: Our toolkit offers parents, children, and teachers a variety of programs for goal setting, self-development, and more. They have been downloaded by school districts all over the country. I’m always amazed and humbled that people find us so far from Dallas. Recently, I talked to a mom of three boys, all whom have been using the toolkit for the past three years! She said they talk about goals regularly and that the toolkit was a catalyst for them.
Last year, her son wanted to improve his vocabulary, so he made that one of his goals. Her other son identified a math goal, and she said this past year she has seen a big difference in his grades. Before the summer, all three boys developed a plan to become better shooters in basketball, and at the end of the summer they were incredible with their aim! She shared that parents are busy and need conversation starters like these. What they’ve learned from the toolkit has now become a part of the culture in their house. The boys keep one another accountable in cultivating a growth mindset, and no longer say, “I don’t know.” Instead, it’s “I’ll find out.”
Rimini Street Foundation: Is there a Noggin success story you’d like to share with us?
Doneda: Recently I ran into a mom, and with tears in her eyes, she threw her arms around me and thanked me for our Special Education Advocacy program. A few weeks prior, I had met her husband at an event. He inquired about the program and brought the information home to her. She said she had been crying the day before not knowing what to do about her son. Her son —who has Down Syndrome — was starting kindergarten and she wanted to make sure he had what he needed to succeed.
She had an upcoming meeting at the school to discuss his educational plan and was concerned she wouldn’t be able to advocate for him. With the guidance and support of our advocate, her son got exactly what he needed. A few weeks later a serious situation occurred with her son at school, and she called on us to intervene. Our advocate called a meeting with everyone involved, was able to help develop a plan of action, and the situation was quickly resolved. I feel so blessed to be a part of something that is making a real difference in the lives of families who are struggling.
Rimini Street Foundation: Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of this with us today. We look forward to seeing how Noggin Educational Foundation’s amazing initiatives, programs, and educational materials impact the achievement gap across America.
Rimini Street is a proud financial supporter of Noggin Educational Foundation. We invite everyone to visit bethelight.life, because Noggin is always looking for volunteers to help accomplish its mission to close the achievement gap!