Peterson Family Foundation to donate $1 million to Teach For America

The Fairfax-based Peterson Family Foundation plans to announce Monday that it will ­donate $1 million to a nonprofit group that recruits college students to teach in low-income communities.

The money from Milton V. Peterson, owner of National Harbor, a waterfront development of hotels, restaurants, stores and a proposed casino, will be used specifically for Teach for America-D.C. Region to attract, train and develop teachers to work in the public schools in Prince George’s County.

“I’m thankful for this generosity,” said Kevin Maxwell, chief executive of the Prince George’s schools. “We can’t do this work by ourselves. We need our community partnerships and business partnerships to get the work done.”

Peterson, Maxwell, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and other elected officials are scheduled to appear Monday at a news conference at a school in Capitol Heights to announce the gift.

Maxwell said the donation will help the district, which often starts the school year without a full complement of permanent teachers, address its teacher shortage. He said he was excited about Peterson’s commitment to the 123,000-student system and hoped that other community groups and business leaders would follow.

Lauren Peterson, director of the Peterson Family Foundation, said the family has made donations to other community groups in Prince George’s since National Harbor was built. Some of those multiyear donations are coming to an end, she said, and the foundation was looking for other outlets for its philanthropy.

It chose Teach for America and Prince George’s schools. “We consider education to be the best investment that we can make . . . education is the great equalizer,” said Lauren Peterson, who also serves on the board of Teach for America-D.C. Region. “We want to use this platform to challenge other companies and business leaders to invest in education in Prince George’s.”

This year, there are 100 Teach for America “corps members” working in Prince George’s County schools, according to Amanda Nichols, interim director of Teach for America-D.C. Region. There have been more than 300 teachers assigned to the county since it began its partnership with Teach for America in 2007.

“We are so grateful for the investment from the Peterson family,” Nichols said.

Nichols and Lauren Peterson said it was unclear how many more teachers will be placed in the county. Teach for America, which also will use the money for training, is working with the school system to determine what the demand will be in coming years, Nichols said. The funds will be used over the next three to four years, Lauren Peterson said.

Baker, who has made education a top priority of his administration, described the foundation’s donation as “a great opportunity” for county schools.

Last year, Baker sought a complete takeover of the school system, arguing that its struggles were stifling the county’s ability to attract new businesses and residents. The Maryland General Assembly gave Baker more oversight of schools, although not as much authority as he sought.

Baker also has been imploring business leaders to become more involved in the county’s efforts to improve the schools.

“It shows that they took the call very seriously in looking at non-traditional ways of helping,” he said Sunday. “This donation will get teachers into our classrooms.”

The donation from Peterson comes a month after Venture Philanthropy Partners, which is based in the District, pledged to invest up to $1.95 million in a program that helps teenagers in Prince George’s county who are at risk of dropping out of school.

VPP plans to give the money to the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection to provide resources to nearly 900 middle and high school students. Hillside, which was founded by Wegmans Food Markets, will provide the students with academic support, mentoring and an opportunity to work part time.

“There is a lot of momentum in Prince George’s County around education, and we are excited to be a part of that,” Nichols said.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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