Shawna Woody: Developing HOPE Toledo’s Cradle to Career Education Path

By Asia Nail
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

As everyone raises his or her hand to answer the math problem, you wonder why your teacher would choose you? As you stand in front of the class completely stumped, your teacher asks you to give it a try.

Terrified, you make a mistake.

As the class laughs you vow to never let this happen again. While convinced the teacher has waged a personal vendetta against you, she says, “Class congratulate Johnny for having the courage to make a mistake. If you never make a mistake, then you never tried. Clap for Johnny and let’s solve this problem together!”

All education starts with nurturing environments and positive messaging. Unfortunately, viewing Toledo’s approximate 4,000 four-year-olds, many underserved communities will have much fewer favorable memories surrounding making mistakes and learning in school.

Introducing Toledo’s best kept secret: HOPE Toledo.

Hope Toledo believes every child deserves the BEST start and for that start to be accessible, affordable and available.

John C. Jones is the president of HOPE (Helping Our Population Educate) Toledo. His deep commitment to servicing our community is at the heart of their mission to create and deliver a quality education From Cradle to Career for Toledo’s youth.

Jones has just hired Shawna Woody as his vice president operations to assist making their new pre-Kindergarten initiative, The Demonstration Project, a success.

Woody is a native of Toledo and a proven leader with the skills to build solid relationships within our community.  She began a 17-year-long career at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo beginning as a 21st Century Afterschool Program Instructor and culminating as Director of Operations. During her tenure she oversaw the daily operations of the three Toledo Public Schools-based Clubs. She also supervised the meal program sponsored by Connecting Kids to Meals as it grew from serving 4,000 meals per year to over 86,000 meals.

“I can think of no better person to help us ensure that every child has a strong start and a stronger future than one of Toledo’s brightest homegrown stars,” said Jones.

In the past, Woody has garnered community support and cultivated collaborative partnerships and innovative children programming with the YMCA Storer Camps, Metroparks Toledo, Imagination Station, Toledo Ballet, Toledo Museum of Art, and many others.  She looks forward to energizing community support as she continues her personal pursuit of her life’s work. “I’m fully committed to our youth right here in the city I was born and raised,” shares Woody.

It’s hard to send your child off to school for the first time, especially when they’re just four years old. But giving your child a quality preschool education will set them up for greater success in every area of life.

At preschool, children build a strong foundation in social, pre-academic, and general life skills that will give them a leg up in school and beyond. “Research shows that kids who graduate from preschool have improved academic readiness, lower incarceration rates, and higher earnings as adults,” explains Woody.

Woody’s most recent triumphs include celebrating the HOPE Toledo Promise initiative at Scott High School while spearheading their new Pre-K Project.

The HOPE Toledo Promise, which was funded by Pete Kadens of The Kadens Family Foundation and creator of HOPE Toledo, pledged to pay four and a half years of tuition to a public college, university, or trade school for Scott High School’s entire 2020 senior graduation class and one parent.

To further support the mission in making sure all children in Toledo have high-quality education and opportunities from cradle to career, Woody says, “The Demonstration Project partners with established local childcare providers to make sure we reduce the barriers to access like having free or affordable options in your own neighborhood.”

Early education lays the foundations for later success. But quality is critical, and quality varies considerably. The Demonstration Project measures emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. “We partner with local agencies to have the health, social, behavioral and nutritional services that the children in our communities need,” explains Woody.

“There are 4,000 four-year-olds in Toledo. We have about 200 seats available now in our Demonstration Project. It’s on a smaller scale today because it was important to start now and keep momentum, but we will further extend offerings as we obtain long term sustainable public investment giving more access to more kids.”

And having access means more than just having enough seats, the Demonstration Project stresses; it means having affordable, strong options without having to jump through unfair barriers.

“We know this strong start prepares them for kindergarten. With high-quality pre-K kids are more likely to pass their third grade reading and math tests, naturally graduate from high school and secondary education, and then go on to earn more income throughout their lives.

“Nearly 90 percent of Toledo Public School students financially qualify for free or reduced lunch. As a proud graduate of Rogers High school I myself am a product of TPS so this number shows a correlation for education readiness for those in need,” she adds.

Woody’s mother is a retired social worker for Lucas County Children Services. Her father, Stanley Woody is a former Scott High School principal and retired School Improvement Leader for Toledo Public Schools.

“Preparing me for this position was deeply rooted in my heart by my upbringing. My dad Stanley Woody positioned me to understand every child deserves a strong educational start,” shares Woody. “I always told my dad that I would focus on educating our kids in the community the way he and all my mentors focused on me growing up.”

Unlike Woody, many children from lower-income and minority families do not attend any form of preschool. They often enter kindergarten already trailing their classmates academically, not knowing their numbers, how to tie their shoes, or that sentences flow left to right.  These critical facts alone makes it crucial for families to have access to high-quality education opportunities as early as possible as a pathway to success into their K-12 education.

In Toledo many underserved adults who did not complete high school are illiterate, making it difficult for some parents to read to their children.  HOPE Toledo suggests showing the pictures in the books to your kids and building an open relationship with your child’s educator. Often times program administrators are not well versed in building trust in these varied situations with parents but HOPE Toledo certainly is!

The conversation and encouragement young children receive at home is just as important as the curriculum they learn at school. Parents often repeat the speech patterns of their own upbringing. It is said that underserved children hear more discouraging words on average than children of professional families. In contrast if a child of a professional home hears six positive words for every negative one, they would hear an approximate total of 560,000 more words of praise by age four than an underserved child.

HOPE Toledo goes through great lengths to ensure teachers receive competitive compensation and professional development. “We not only attract amazing educators, we retain them,” shares Shawna proudly.

Toledo Public Schools, ProMedica, and the Greater Toledo Community Foundation, have been vital to HOPE Toledo’s overall growth. Woody looks forward to growing with new local education providers and energizing community engagement. “Everyone knows someone who is a four-year-old or who will be four one day,” says Woody.

The Demonstration Project Pre-K is enrolling now through the entire month of August. Classes start Sept 1st.

HOPE Toledo’s cradle to career nurturing of the community approach will better serve our children and, in the long run, help our city progress towards a stronger, more educated workforce. HOPE Toledo is working with the Toledo community, through public/private partnerships and in tandem with Toledo Public Schools as well as Washington Local Schools to develop high-quality educational experiences for all of our youth. For more information, to donate, or to learn more about HOPE Toledo and how you can get involved contact them at: