Putting Communities At the Core of Education
News Source: NewSource Community Benefits
Luba Vangelova is a community engagement and accountability manager for the American Correctional Association, focusing on issues of public safety and human development. She grew up in a poor one-room home in the Russian countryside, moved to America, and eventually worked in corrections at a youth correctional center. Vangelova currently lives in Baltimore. Her articles have appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, The Gray Way, The Baltimore Examiner, and The Townsend, along with a number of public radio programs. She is an adjunct professor of prison studies at Morgan State University.
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Community benefits for schools are a growing trend across the U.S. and increasingly important to the success of municipal education initiatives. Students who are able to attend school close to their home helps them succeed, but so does the support they get from those in their community. But in some places, the best schools are located far from the neighborhoods where they serve. Given the large student-adult ratio within Baltimore City and the many other reasons to make a school community a priority, we should develop ways to foster the close relationships between parents and neighbors that improve schools in all neighborhoods. This is the idea behind the Community School: “A College Campus In Your Neighborhood,” a proposal that our community benefit initiative is seeking to engage Baltimore City schools in at a time when they need your help.
The premise is clear: If there are parents and neighbors who care about what happens at their schools, then there are reasons for the community to care. These reasons include, but are not limited to, being neighbors, being community members, being nearby teachers and principals, or belonging to advocacy groups or scholarship funds.
Since 2003, the Community School has been used in over 200 cities to combat truancy and promote attendance. Its interest is to harness the energy that results from a closer connection between parents and students and create connections between the schools and the communities they serve. The solution is not simply to provide access to physical facilities or resources, but to provide models for nurturing that connection in the first place. We need to enhance parents’ voices and integrate their educationally valuable contributions into the school curriculum.
Unfortunately, one of the most common obstacles to the process of learning to manage school and community concerns at a neighborhood level is a lack of knowledge and resources in supporting the process. With this in mind, the Community School is looking to fund, implement, and provide the proof that collaborating at a community level produces results.
Before proceeding, schools must begin with the realization that they are not autonomous institutions but a part of their neighborhood. This is why “student center” design is so influential and why we need to tailor our instructional models to the schools themselves. In addition, school buildings and structures must be given a focal point and connected to the neighborhood. These often include school community gardens or kitchens, paths, or playgrounds. Outdated technologies are also in need of revitalization, particularly computers. Ideally, these would be fitted with hardware at the schools that can enable parents to collaborate with their students on homework and take notes electronically on a high-speed network.
Aside from writing down their student involvement and support, teachers need to understand why a person in their class should also be active in their home neighborhood. They need to be interested in a changing schedule of activities and have insight on the types of communication tools the school needs to support their efforts. It’s a role for the teacher to nurture and guide teachers on how to engage neighbors. These practices require educators and administrators to engage their co-workers and neighbors in mutual support for increased community engagement.
The Community School would help propel parents into a new district of engagement, elevate their status within the school, and foster greater support from the school community. This would be an important step for motivating parents to become better advocates and keeping them invested in their children’s education and life goals. It also would be a significant step in making schools once again a priority for communities.
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