School and local community are civic partners

“When learning is disconnected from the people, places and organizations in young people’s lives, it often seems detached from their reality." says Nan Skelton. “The danger is that kids see learning as separate from real life, and separate from how they imagine their future."

Skelton is co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship and a leader in the Neighborhood Learning Community (NLC), a coalition of neighborhood organizations, local government, and residents that have worked together as civic partners for seven years to create a culture of learning in the West Side neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. (For the history and a step-by-step guide to creating the NLC , see Creating a culture of learning: a framework for neighborhood public work.)

Humboldt junior and senior high schools are two of the four secondary schools in the NLC. This year, both schools had to make tough decisions to address low test scores on standardized tests mandated by federal No Child Left Behind laws.

Because of their involvement in the NLC, the schools had relationships with multiple stakeholder groups, and could draw on these individuals and organizations to develop redesign plans for each school.

Working together, the school district and principals at both schools convened a leadership team and engaged teachers, community partners such as Genysys Works, an information technology company, and neighborhood residents including parents and students, in developing and reviewing curriculum proposals.

The new plans will be implemented with the 2008 – 2009 school year and include tracks focusing on environmental studies and on college and career prep. Students will be able to engage in the larger civic community through internships, mentorships, apprenticeships, and engineering opportunities, connecting learning with “real life" and leading to improved test scores.

Don Luna, a West Side resident active in community development and the parent of a Humboldt student told the Star Tribune that Humboldt “[is] going to be a school where you can actually see what it is that education is going to get you. Everything you do at that point is preparing for the specifics."

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs