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Ford Gives 'Innovation' Awards to 2 School Programs

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Two school programs in Los Angeles and Cambridge, Mass., are among the 10 winners in an annual program that recognizes innovative public-sector initiatives.

Among the projects selected this year from a pool of more than 1,600 applicants are Humanitas, a program designed to improve the teaching of humanities in Los Angeles schools, and the CityWorks program at the Rindge School of Technical Arts in Cambridge, which links vocational and academic instruction.

The Ford Foundation will give $100,000 to each of the 10 winners of the "Innovations in State and Local Government'' awards, which were announced late last month.

Each year since 1985, Ford has made the awards in a partnership with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This year, for the first time, 15 runners-up will receive $20,000 awards.

"There're really only two criteria'' for the awards, Lloyd Garrison, a spokesman for the foundation, said last week. "Is the innovation truly original and does it work? And two, is it something that other states and local governments could emulate?''

The winners were chosen by a panel of public officials, academicians, journalists, and leaders from business and nonprofit organizations.

The program areas represented in this year's awards range from traffic control to the environment. The honorees include a bilingual-outreach program for immigrants in Arlington County, Va., and a New York State program that helps welfare recipients work their way out of poverty.

Interdisciplinary Programs

The Humanitas program in California was established in 1985 by a group of educators who were concerned about improving humanities instruction for urban high school students.

Students enrolled in the program, currently offered in 36 Los Angeles high schools, study an interdisciplinary, thematic curriculum taught by teams of five or six teachers.

The aim is to improve students' critical-thinking skills as well as to "give them confidence in exploring the art and cultural world around them,'' said Judy Johnson, the director of programs at the Los Angeles Educational Partnership, which oversees the program.

Interdisciplinary instruction is also an important component of the CityWorks program at the Rindge School in Massachusetts. The school uses a project-based curriculum that combines study of academic subjects with instruction in skills needed by Cambridge-area businesses.

"What we're really doing is developing students to be intellectual persons in a social context, rather than the very different notion of developing a worker bee,'' said Larry Rosenstock, the school's executive director.

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