When neighborhoods are united around children's learning
Arne Duncan was a strong advocate for community schools when he was chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. As the new U.S. Secretary of Education, he has a vision of schools that includes having buildings open through the evening and year-round, with programming and services for adults and children. "When schools become a center of community life," he said on The Charlie Rose Show, "great things are going to happen to those families, and to those children."
The Center for Democracy and Citizenship, the City of Saint Paul, and statewide groups like Youth Community Connections are strong proponents of this vision. At the same time, we want to make sure that expanded learning opportunities that are not centered in school buildings continue to be supported as part of the ecology of family and children's learning.
Neighborhood Learning Community - a school without walls
The Neighborhood Learning Community (NLC) in St. Paul, Minn., exists in this spirit of the community school, but is not bound within a single building. The NLC is an example of a whole neighborhood—schools, local government, neighborhood organizations, and residents—working together to ensure that all young people in the neighborhood grow up as successful, engaged citizens.
Since 2004, neighborhood leaders have organized to broker resources, ensure support for civic learning and leadership development, and connect people and organizations in the best interests of children's learning and development. They organized free circulator buses that connect libraries, rec centers and schools in St. Paul's West Side and East Side neighborhoods, and worked with government and nonprofit leaders to develop recommendations for city-wide integrated transportation.
They developed a program called All Around the Neighborhood, which draws on community resources—including residents—to create and host camps for children on school release days and during the summer.
Last summer, River Camp kids spent an afternoon on the banks of the Mississippi, doing pretty much whatever Huck Finn and his buddies were doing down stream in 1884, except with signed permission slips.
This year, the Youth Apprenticeship Project, which matches teens with jobs in their neighborhood and provides a cohort learning experience, will be extended from summer-only to a year-round program.
Teen Scene, a menu of youth-influenced after-school programming at West Side public and private schools, the local library, and the Neighborhood House settlement house, offers young people more than a dozen ways to develop their creative talents, indulge their fascination with technology, get homework help, and meet other young people.
It is refreshing and encouraging to have a Secretary of Education who understands the criticality and the value that neighborhoods bring when they are united around children's learning. Both expanding learning beyond the school day and expanding learning beyond the school building are the twin keys that will ensure the contributions and participation of everyone in the neighborhood who has an interest in the success of young people.