Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bridging the School-Community Gap

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?


Patrick Barry said...

Back in my days organizing other parents at Kilmer and Pritzker schools, the big trick was creating a steady stream of activities that the parents and kids could participate in. We had school carnivals, cleanups, teacher appreciation breakfasts, family science nights and even a Valentine's Day Dance at Kilmer (parent run, with classes rotating through all day long). You do enough such stuff and, through all the planning meetings and events, a real community evolves.

Logan Square Neighborhood Association does even more through its parent mentor programs by providing long-term opportunities for parents. There's a nice story about it in today's Tribune:,0,3670474.story

Maureen Kelleher said...

I just caught that story on LSNA's parent mentors at McAuliffe--thanks for linking, Patrick.

I think Reavis is taking on the kind of strategy you are talking about that worked at Kilmer and Pritzker. What I like about LSNA's Parent Mentors is that it develops a cadre of parents who really know the inside scoop on their school and can reach out to other parents.

I'm curious how to take that to the next level. The Pilsen Education Task Force has some parent representation--largely parent Local School Council members from the participating public schools--but I wonder if a Parent Mentor program could help develop a deeper bench to draw from and get parents involved in broader coalitions.

sbobet said...

thanks ysboou for arsbochive

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