Accomplishments 1997 – 2008
Drs. William H. and Camille O. Cosby established the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation to fulfill the goals and dreams of their son; its name was inspired by Ennis' common greeting. Formed in early 1997, the organization is dedicated to the vision that no one with learning differences be denied the lifelong joy and fulfillment of learning. The Foundation.s mandate is to effect fundamental changes in services, attitudes, educational systems, families and communities, in order to realize the capabilities of learning within all human beings.
The Foundation recognizes that early childhood literacy is a critical flashpoint in determining a child.s academic success or failure, since students who fall behind as early as the fourth grade rarely catch up to their peers. To address this problem at its source, the Foundation created The Ennis William Cosby Graduate Certificate Program. This was developed and implemented in partnership with Fordham University.s Graduate School of Education. Since its inception in 2000, this customized two year-program has produced 239 "Cosby Scholars" from the pool of New York City.s working kindergarten through second grade public school teachers. Many of these teachers, who work in some of the city.s most challenging schools, have gone on to leadership positions in their field as teacher-trainers and intervention specialists, teaching techniques and methodologies. So many of the Cosby Scholars have said that their biggest wish is that they could go back in time and help the students they couldn.t reach prior to receiving their advanced training. The tenth cohort will graduate in January 2010.
Too often, children who have academic difficulties in school because of learning differences face an added, formidable challenge from the negative projections and attitudes of others and diminished self-esteem. To create awareness and a fundamental shift on this issue, The Foundation funded and co-produced the award-winning documentary entitled Ennis. Gift: A Film About Learning Differences. Hosted by Ed Bradley, this emotionally-powerful film features the voices of actors, artists, business leaders, athletes and others who overcame the challenges of having learning differences, mixed with the viewpoints of children facing these same issues in their everyday life. Ennis' Gift aired on HBO in 2002 and on public television throughout 2003. It continues to be in widespread use across the country at professional conferences, parent meetings, and teacher training sessions.
High impact programs don.t have to be complicated or expensive, as the Foundation demonstrated with The Classroom Library Project. Launched in February 2002, it brought over 1.3 million new reading books collated by Foundation volunteers into 13,000 free classroom libraries and shipped to under-resourced kindergarten through third grade classes in 588 cities in 48 states. For many of the children, it was the first time they had ever held a new reading book in their hands – likewise for teachers, they received a new treasure trove of books in their classroom that could be shared by students for years to come. The response to the program was overwhelming, not only in the volume of applications from schools. The Foundation and its partners received thousands of letters and photos from students and their teachers, testimony of a powerful but simple way to reinforce of love of learning and reading. Erinn Cosby was present on many occasions to personally deliver the books and witness the children.s joy as they tore open the boxes. The program was also made possible thanks to a diverse network of grassroots, corporate and institutional supporters that included the Teachers. Learning Center in Vermont, the National Council of Negro Women, the Chicago Public Schools, the Literacy Network of Los Angeles, the Community Food Bank of NJ. Corporate underwriters included JPMorganChase, Bank One, Bank of America, Verizon, and the Westchester Community Foundation.
With epidemic high school dropout rates affecting every community in America, the Foundation once again looked to develop an easy-to-use but highly effective tool to address a significant root cause. Education Director Carolyn Olivier authored an innovative daily planner for students entitled What.s Up? which has been used by hundreds of middle and high schools across the country. Its premise is simple: Succeeding in the upper grades involves mastering the increasing organizational challenges and skills necessary for becoming an independent learner. Problems spiral rapidly when students see themselves as failures–when they fail to fulfill their school responsibilities, when they don.t develop routines and patterns of reliable performance, or when they fail to master learning skills and study habits – all compounded if lacking the proper support within their educational communities. Students with these difficulties may become discouraged or depressed, fall into the cracks, act out, or drop out. For many young people, middle and high school is the last and greatest opportunity to learn and practice the skills that will support academic success – the very skills that also play a key role in high school completion, job performance, life, and citizenship. What.s Up? has provided an organized and coherent way for schools to give their students the support they need to meet these challenges and to work collaboratively with families, guardians, and/or mentors.
Finally, in the Ennis Cosby Schools Project, the Foundation has worked hand-in-hand with several schools at the elementary and secondary level to put student learning – all students. learning – at the heart of school change. The Foundation recognized that diversity in student learning is the norm and not pathology. By addressing professional development, curricular and programmatic design, and leadership, this program has helped schools become successful in including all of their students in the joy of learning and accomplishment. With a grant from the Waghorne Family, the Foundation completed a five-year collaboration with The George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania to develop and implement a new model for institutional transformation that addresses the needs and capabilities of all students. The Foundation also provided faculty training over a two-year period at the Harriet Tubman Charter School in Bronx, New York.
The Foundation suspended its day-to-day operations in late December 2008. The Foundation and the Cosby Family are grateful to all who have supported the organization through the years through contributions and participation in its programs and activities.