At Green Dot, we’re used to fielding questions about our name. Public schools evoke all kinds of images: bustling hallways, dusty chalkboards, piles of homework.
But green dots?
More than a commitment to education, the “green dot” in our name reminds us of our dedication to the health and well-being of the communities we serve. It also carries a meaningful connection to our founding 15 years ago.
Connecting the Dots
Let’s go back. Early in 1999, a group of concerned citizens gathered to review a map of Los Angeles, looking for patterns to predict voter engagement in the upcoming presidential election. One way to do this was by tracking available access to the Internet (which was pretty new back then), reasoning that online use would be greatest in areas with reliable connection sites like libraries and community centers. Neighborhoods with such facilities were marked with green dots; neighborhoods without them were marked with red ones.
As the map filled with dots, a stark pattern emerged: While the suburban areas of greater Los Angeles were predominantly green, the city’s urban center — communities with high unemployment and low-performing schools — started vanishing in a cloud of red.
For Green Dot’s founders, the map became an emblem of opportunity. Working with leaders across the city, they assembled a team of skilled teachers and administrators and set about designing a small-school model built upon a few simple principles:
- Ensuring quality teaching and instruction
- Cultivating a college-going culture
- Promoting leadership and life skills
- Eliminating barriers to learning
The model that emerged over the following months was driven by the goal of using education to reconnect students and families with the city’s power grid. To turn red dots into green ones.
More Schools, More Impact
Fifteen years later, we’re still guided by this vision. And although the Internet is commonplace today, the urgency for exceptional schools in high-need communities remains as great as ever. Nearly all our students (93%) meet the federal definition of poverty, and most enter Green Dot schools performing far below state and district averages. Yet things are starting to change.
For the past three years, we’ve graduated more than 1,500 students — the most of any charter organization in the country. Last year, more than 5,000 parents and community members enrolled in Green Dot’s Parent Academy, taking English language classes, accessing health and wellness services, and learning strategies to smooth their children’s path to college.
Starting this year, Green Dot is beginning to surface on maps outside of California, seeking to bring much-needed school improvements to communities in Memphis and Seattle-Tacoma.
Good things are happening. The red dots are turning green.