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10 Colleges, Hospitals Join Forces To Aid Children in Providence

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A coalition of private colleges and hospitals unveiled an initiative last week that aims to enhance the quality of life for children and families in Providence, R.I., with an emphasis on helping to improve the public schools.

The announcement "emerges from some careful review of the strengths and the resources of [Providence's] private institutions, matched with the emerging needs of the community,'' said Theodore R. Sizer, the Brown University education professor who chairs the Coalition of Essential Schools. "It's a reflection of our obligation to the community.''

Brown, which is in Providence, is one of 10 institutions participating in the coalition.

A central feature of the initiative's education portion, which was designed in cooperation with the city schools, will be the breakup of three large high schools--Central, Hope, and Mount Pleasant--into smaller units.

Creating smaller, more personal learning environments was a top recommendation of a critical report issued last year by the Providence Blueprint for Education, known as PROBE. (See Education Week, March 24, 1993)

An independent panel convened by the city's Public Education Fund and supported by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, PROBE described the district as plagued by poor communication and a "profound lack of trust.''

"'We never get a chance to talk,' and 'They never listen to us,' are the two comments we heard most often as we listened to Providence's teachers, students, parents, principals, and administrators,'' the PROBE report observed.

Each of the three comprehensive high schools has at least 1,000 students. Central, the largest of the three, has about 1,800 students.

The district hopes to set up the smaller units by September, according to Mr. Sizer.

Health and Education

Mr. Sizer said that Brown, the University of Rhode Island, and Rhode Island College have already been working with teachers to design the smaller high school units, at the request of Arthur Zanella, the Providence superintendent.

The new coalition will also work on three other recommendations in the PROBE report: establishing site-based-management teams, revising the district's professional-development and performance-evaluation systems, and developing better methods to measure the district's successes and failures.

The coalition comprises four colleges--Brown, Johnson and Wales University, Providence College, and the Rhode Island School of Design--as well as Butler Hospital, Miriam Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital, Roger Williams Medical Center, St. Joseph Hospital, and Women and Infants Hospital.

"The coalition recognizes that quality public education and a healthy society are vital to the economic, social, and cultural vibrancy of our city,'' said a statement the alliance issued last week. "The members of this coalition commit ourselves--collectively and individually--to the development of programs to enrich the city our institutions call home.''

To date, the coalition has committed $1.4 million in cash and in-kind contributions to launch 12 new health and education programs.

About one-fifth of these funds will be used to finance a two-week summer institute that will bring together teachers, administrators, students, and parents to help redesign the high schools.

"This is going to provide a block of time where people involved in this change can sit down and think about how they can use this opportunity to transform teaching and learning in schools,'' said Daniel D. Challener, the director of PROBE. "It's extremely exciting.''

The coalition also plans to connect all Providence schools with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's educational-programming system, increase the number of teachers certified to teach English as a second language, and launch a mentoring program in which 25 college faculty members will each provide guidance to 10 high school students.

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