Thursday, June 18, 2009

Umoja University Trains School Leaders as Community Change Agents

Twelve years ago, less than 10 percent of graduates from North Lawndale's Manley High School went on to college. Last Friday, the Chicago Tribune reported that "all but a few" of Manley's 142 graduating seniors had been accepted to college.

Much of the credit for this achievement goes to the Umoja Student Development Corporation. Umoja provides pathways for students to learn about college and careers and builds the relationships with them needed to help them move forward after graduation. (I wrote about one of them here back in 2003.) Students working with Umoja not only develop postsecondary plans; they follow through. Umoja contacted 139 of last year's Manley grads and found 68 percent of them had enrolled as college freshmen: 64 percent of that group are going back for a second year.

In the last few years, Umoja has been expanding its efforts beyond Manley, to south and southwest side schools like Gage Park, Carver, Dyett and ACE Tech Charter. This summer, teachers and school leadership teams who want to learn more about how Umoja has "changed the way the school does business" (as the Tribune put it), are invited to sign up for four days of workshops and planning known as Umoja University. The workshops will be held at Dominican University from July 27-31. Interested individual teachers are invited to sign up for one or more morning workshops; school teams are encouraged to sign up for the full five days, and will have dedicated time in the afternoons to develop plans for their own school aided by Umoja facilitators.

Why am I telling you about this on a community development blog? Because one of the best ways to strengthen a community is to increase the education level of its members. According to the Trib article, less than 10 percent of adults in North Lawndale currently hold a bachelor's degree. Umoja has been working diligently to plant the seeds that will increase that number down the road, and I think they have something to share with teachers and principals who share that goal.

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