Thursday, April 30, 2009
On the surface, it seems like schools and communities ought to be natural partners. Neighborhood schools are filled with kids who walk just a few blocks every day, often escorted by their parents. They are big public spaces, often next to parks that are filled with locals at night and on the weekends. Yet schools constantly say they don't see their parents enough, and neighborhood folks say schools are often aloof from the local goings-on.
I've recently come across a couple of different strategies for trying to bridge the divide. The photo above was taken in February at Reavis Elementary's Family Art Night. This school year Reavis has been hosting family events every couple of months or so, inviting parents to join their children in activities or letting parents get a taste of their children's after-school activities through a "showcase." It's been a big hit--administrators say they've never seen so many parents show up for a school-related event. In December, about 200 of them showed up in a blizzard to see their kids perform in the end-of-semester showcase. This is one of many new things happening at Reavis since it became part of Elev8 Chicago.
Another tack is being taken in Pilsen. Last week, about 40 principals, parent and community leaders and university representatives headed out to Itasca for an overnight planning retreat. They began the process of drawing up a five-year plan for education in Pilsen, which should help ease the transitions from one stage of education to another (like pre-K to K-12 and K-12 to college), reduce the high school dropout rate and improve adult education and job training. This group, known as the Pilsen Education Task Force, grew out of a Principals' Table that brought local school leaders together to discuss common issues.
The Reavis strategy has successfully brought formerly absent parents through the school doors, but have yet to engage them in deeper levels of partnership; in Pilsen, they've brought stakeholders together from a variety of levels, but acknowledge that parents are still under-represented.
What are other neighborhoods and schools are doing to build bridges? How's it going? Now that Reavis is getting parents inside the building, what's the next step? Should more neighborhoods be creating task forces like the one in Pilsen, or are there other ways to go here?