Higher-Ed. Grant To Help Plan Camden Lab School

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The New Jersey Department of Higher Education has awarded a $1.6 million planning grant to Rutgers University to create an innovative community center housing a laboratory school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the nation's poorest cities.

Rutgers ultimately hopes to raise up to $24.1 million to underwrite "Project LEAP,'' shorthand for "Leadership, Education, and Partnership,'' the initiative designed to aid students in the North Camden section of Camden, N.J.

North Camden is "a community that's very, very neglected by the city,'' said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, an associate professor of social work at Rutgers's Camden campus who will oversee the initiative.

A city of 88,000, Camden has been beset by poverty, crime, and drugs in recent decades. About 25,000 of the city's residents live in North Camden.

Two-thirds of Camden's adults rely on public assistance as their primary income, and 68 percent of families are headed by single females, according to surveys by the university's new Center for Strategic Urban Community Leadership, which Ms. Santiago heads. The city has more than 200 bars and liquor stores, but not a single movie theater or major supermarket.

In the project's first 18 months, Rutgers will "adopt'' two elementary schools and a middle school. The university will work with the three schools to help students and their families obtain access to health and social services, as well as assistance with legal and financial concerns.

Comer's Work a Model

The schools' instructional models will draw upon the work of James P. Comer, the Yale University psychiatrist who believes that schools need to focus on the social as well as academic development of children and must also increase parent and community involvement in education.

"There are a lot of social problems in this community that interfere with children's success in school,'' said Superintendent Arnold Webster. "If we can help the entire family to develop ... we're just enhancing their possibilities of becoming better learners.''

Rutgers also plans to establish a public K-8 laboratory school on its Camden campus, with an initial enrollment of about 200 students.

The three "adopted'' schools will then serve as feeder institutions for the lab school. Details on how, when, and which students would transfer have not been decided.

Literature describing the project contends that other campus-based lab schools elsewhere have evolved into elitist institutions that primarily serve privileged children.

In contrast, Ms. Santiago said, Project LEAP will "create a positive social climate in schools that serve poor and minority children.''

Vol. 13, Issue 03, Page 8

Published in Print: September 22, 1993, as Higher-Ed. Grant To Help Plan Camden Lab School
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