Haywood Wadsworth, a junior at Michigan State University is an intern with the Coalition for Community Schools. His grandmother was a community educator in Flint in the 1960s and 70s. Haywood spoke with her about her experience. Here is his summary of her thoughts.
Odena Wadsworth was hired by Flint Community Schools in 1951 as an elementary school teacher. After twelve successful years of teaching, with mounting environmental and racial problems, she was transferred from instruction to pupil personnel to work with the community using the Whole Child approach. This was a major challenge considering the surrounding economic and social environment, but it gave her the chance to work with problems that hindered the academic and social growth of children. With additional training, knowledge, and skills she became a social service field worker with the Title I program. This enabled her to link resources within the neighborhoods using the school as a community hub.
The first strides of community education happened in Flint, Michigan in 1935. Its purpose was to give young people an opportunity for supervised recreation. School buildings were used for recreation after school hours through a grant from the Mott Foundation of $6,000 to fund programs in 5 Flint schools. This brought children and young people in off the street and involved them in constructive activities within the school. Recreation programs grew to include children and adults in all schools across the district, paving the way for growth and continued programs and services. These expanded programs were not only recreational but were also educational, cultural, social, and medical. In 1950 a large scale building project began with a need for extra classrooms and more space to launch a community education initiative.
Flint school district then became known as the community schools district. During this time, Flint was transforming thanks to major migration from the south and other states from people looking for employment in the auto manufacturing industry. This caused rapid population growth resulting in the development of various urban issues and disparities. Prior to the 1970’s, students were exposed to conditions and possessed attitudes that needed to be checked before reaching unsolvable proportions. Flint became overwhelmed with community, social, and economical problems.
Carpenter Road Elementary School, the community school Odena worked in, was situated in a very diverse area with a significant lack of parental involvement. To carry out the goals of the Flint Board of Education Odena focused on implementing the following core values:
1. Student preparation and total community development; organizing a parent group to open channels of communication for diverse members of the school community.
2. Work towards positive human and race relations; incorporate after school activities to expose students to different forms of diversity.
3. Utilize all available human and financial resources to ensure economic, civic, and social growth.
One strategy that Odena used to achieve these goals, she had parents of different ethnic groups take a month out of the school year to provide each with individual an opportunity to learn about, understand, and appreciate the values, customs, and history of his/her own culture. This increased staff and student morale leading to a rapid increase in parental involvement along with community engagement within the school.
The community school atmosphere continued in this building until Odena left the social service field worker position to work as a district wide social worker. Sadly to say, without leadership and active community participation, the community began to deteriorate and parental involvement decreased. According to Odena, “Educators must stay active and transition with the times in which we live. The community school strategy was very successful at this time because Flint was undergoing many social problems due to migration of diverse backgrounds to the area for the manufacturing industry. In current times, educators must learn that engaging and connecting community with the school is essential to helping students reach their maximum academic, social, health, and civic functions. Lack of leaders in the community that are willing to use the school as a community hub is the largest issue.”