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Community Resources

By Jessica Portner, Adrienne D. Coles, Linda Jacobson & Jeff Archer — April 02, 1997 6 min read

The initiative of one elementary school in Oxon Hill, Md., to address the needs of students during the out-of-school hours has improved student performance and increased parent involvement.

Two years ago, Barnaby Manor Elementary School created three homework centers in a set of apartments at the Southview Apartment complex in a neighborhood where children often go home alone and don’t have community resources, such as a public library, nearby. The school is in suburban Washington’s Prince George’s County, Md., one of the 20 largest school districts in the nation.

The Almost Home Project, which now serves about 50 children from the complex, was recognized recently with a $25,000 grant from the county department of family services’ division for children, youth, and families.

The one-time grant is part of the county government’s effort to help people or groups working in communities to meet the specific needs of children and families.

Two after-school coordinators, five activities assistants, and a team of volunteer tutors work at the homework centers, which are equipped with desks, chairs, and instructional materials for children in grades 3 through 5.

The program operates every day after school, from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and offers other activities for students who have completed their regular homework assignments.

Parents whose children attend the program have reported improved performance in school and better communication and organizational skills.

To help ensure racial equity and improve cultural diversity in schools, parents, school staff members, students, community members, and others must first have a vision of what they want to accomplish.

That is one of the lessons learned by Supporting Diversity in Schools Through Family and Community Involvement, a seven-year, $2.6 million effort of the Saint Paul Foundation to address the gaps between the St. Paul, Minn., school system’s diverse student body and its homogeneous curriculum and staff.

“Lessons Learned: A Synthesis of Lessons from a Community and Its Schools,” the report of the foundation, summarizes the poor achievement record of the district’s minority students, such as high dropout rates and low test scores.

The report also recounts the ways in which the district--through the diversity project--has tried to improve instruction for students by adding more lessons about the histories and cultures of the various ethnic groups represented in the schools and by bringing out in the open such topics as prejudice.

School-community partnerships are the cornerstone of the project and brought together students, parents, and staff members to discuss their personal stories and come up with ways to address the problems.

Other lessons learned from the project are that cultural diversity and equity depend on school improvement and system reform and that working toward these goals requires attention to organizational structure.

For example, the partnerships were more successful when the cultural mores of the members were respected and when the members found ways to encourage communication from everyone, despite language and cultural barriers.

The report, however, addresses the many obstacles to change, such as staff turnover within the district, a lack of support from staff members, and the difficulty of communicating the vision throughout the district.

The report also notes that while the diversity project accomplished a lot, it’s unclear whether the district can sustain the initiative on its own, without the support of the foundation.

Free copies of the report, in English, Spanish, or Hmong, are available from Supporting Diversity in Schools, 600 Norwest Center, St. Paul, Minn. 55101.

Why do some young people successfully navigate their social environments while others adopt risky lifestyles?

That’s a question a panel of researchers explore in a report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. “Youth Development and Neighborhood Influences: Challenges and Opportunities” examines the impact that physical environment, economic opportunity, public and private services, and social networks play in the lives of young people.

The report looks at how neighborhood influences sway young people’s behaviors in nearly every sphere, from education and employment to recreation and health. It also offers practical steps that communities can take to foster collaboration on researching, financing, and providing services to young people.

The report is based on a recent workshop convened by the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Copies are available for $10 each from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave. N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, D.C. 20055; (800) 624-6242.

As devolution of authority to the states voids many of the guarantees of support long provided by the country’s welfare system, many advocates for children and families hope the movement also presents an opportunity to ensure that fewer people fall through the cracks.

States can capitalize on this change by better coordinating services offered by schools, health-care agencies, and other social service providers, contends the Finance Project, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

In a new publication, “Building Strong Communities: Crafting a Legislative Foundation,” the organization offers advice to legislators seeking to build stronger links between the myriad of formal and informal groups that serve children and families in their states.

In drafting the publication, the Finance Project sought to create a “tool kit” of ideas to help policymakers craft legislation aimed at coordinating these programs, while also ensuring that local decisionmaking drives how their services are provided.

The guide includes sample legislation, which can be tailored to the particular circumstances of different states.

It also includes strategies for avoiding the pitfalls that often doom efforts to restructure social service programs at the state level.

The report is available for $20 from the Finance Project, (202) 628-4200.

The Washington-based Hitachi Foundation is seeking proposals from collaborative projects led by nonprofit community organizations.

Proposals should focus on issues of access to and uses of resources to support broad-scale, long-term economic development and improvement in low-income or isolated communities.

Applicants may apply for grants, program-related investments--including low-interest loans and loan guarantees, or both.

The foundation will consider supporting projects of two to three years in length with grants of $100,000 to $250,000 for the term of the project and/or program-related investments of $100,000 to $250,000.

The foundation expects to make grants to between six and 10 collaborative efforts that are diverse in location, character of collaboration, people involved, and proposed activities.

Only collaborative efforts in which all partners are making an investment in the project will be considered.

Collaborations must include one or more businesses as project partners and may include educational institutions or government agencies.

Except for those projects led by American Indian tribes, the foundation will not accept proposals in which schools, colleges, universities, or government agencies are the lead organizations.

The deadline for submitting proposals to the foundation is July 1. For more information, write: Resource Use RFP, The Hitachi Foundation, 1509 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037-1073.

Submissions to the Community Resources column are welcome. Write to: Communities Editor, Education Week, 4301 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 250, Washington, D.C. 20008. Or send items via electronic mail to comm@epe.org.

A version of this article appeared in the April 02, 1997 edition of Education Week