Today marked the first day of the 2012 Coalition for Community Schools National Forum in San Francisco, CA. For some, the forum serves an enjoyable reunion of colleagues, a chance to share recent successes, and an opportunity to learn about new strategies. For others, this seems to be a vital introduction to the theories and methods required to start or scale up newer community school initiatives. For myself, it’s a chance to listen to those whose work I have read and meet more people in the field. I did learn a few very important things today. Carol Hill from Beacon Schools taught us the soul clap. Abe Fernandez and Sarah Jonas from Children’s Aid Society’s National Center for Community Schools taught us that by collaboratively cheating in a game of arm wrestling, a room full of people could simultaneously win $1,000 from Marty Blank. Possibly the most valuable lesson delivered today was when Youth Speak artist, April belted out, “The future will give you their best if and when we give them ours!”
Other highlights from the opening night of The Forum:
Coordinators Network opened with an announcement that there were 1,423 participants registered. Brief introductions made clear a large Ohio presence, followed by California and Tulsa. There were a few from Quebec, Indianapolis, and Hawaii as well. In groups we talked about the role of the coordinator. As expected, wearing multiple hats was a common theme. One group referred to it as playing Dr. Octopus. Other roles included being an advocate for multiple parties, aligner of resources and goals, relationship builder, communicator, and utility person- “Get in where you fit in”. The abilities to communicate your role, and to learn how to strategically say no came up a few times as well. Some interesting notes: in IL there is a resource coordinator certification program being setup, and the Quebec group has started a video linking program for both coordinators and schools. I had the opportunity to speak with coordinators from the Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative to find out a bit more about all the hype I’ve been hearing. It also sounds like some great initiatives are still coming from University of Chicago and the Greater Homewood Community Corporation in Baltimore. We then talked about challenges and best practices, figuring out that it was a strategic move by Carol and Annie to show us that another coordinator in the room has likely already conquered one coordinator’s challenge. An interesting conversation that came up had to do with there being a plethora of good academic resources about program coordination, but no guide actually written by practitioners in the field. Hopefully, as a result of the session, this guide, along with a coordinator web forum will open up to connect all of us in sharing resources and experiences.
Community schools 101: A Strategy, Not a Program, filled up with folks looking to brush up on the basics, as well as a slew of people who are beginning the community schools journey. Regardless of the amount of experience one had, we all quickly recognized the comic strip of a boy coming to school with backpacks full of issues such as homelessness, hunger, etc. These bags clearly united everyone in the room with a common set of causes for why we were there. We talked about the Four Capacities, covered well known community school models, and discussed the importance of evaluation from site based teams, communicated up through the intermediary teams, and onto community leadership teams.
After the sessions I meandered over to the atrium where Jim Walker with GLOS Games was set up with some funky and educational chessboards. His gurus served me with a couple chess wallopings, but followed them up with some good tips for next time. It was a nice break from everything else going on, and they’ll be around all week if you’re up for the challenge. I then headed down to the lounge area where the booths were set up. A group from the Bay area United Way had created a Google map of the local community schools, and I love to geek out on maps so we talked about the usefulness of GIS in this field, and how a recent Nashville initiative used Google maps to create safe pedestrian routes around local schools in the name of healthy transportation for families. I chatted with a few acquaintances, and then headed into the ballroom for dinner.
I sat at a table with Ryan from Arts at Large in Milwaukee and some real nice people from the CAS local NY initiative. The food was good, and the entertainment really showed up. Jane Quinn got up on stage and gave a great tribute to the “godmother of community schools”, Joy Dryfoos. As Ms. Quinn mentioned, we all stand on the shoulders of reform giants, including Dryfoos, Dewey, and Adams; and we do so at an exciting time when the community school model is really gaining momentum. Lisa Villarreal gave our movement meaning, describing it as one without mandate or a consistent stream of funding, but one with a moral imperative that draws us all together. Martin Blank delivered a very creative Steve Jobs-like analogy about community schools being equivalent to today’s smart phones. With every need school communities should be able to turn to this resource and be able to immediately address the problem whether the app be youth development, family engagement, or health support. The Youth Speak performances by Michael, April, and Brandon were intensely powerful, and very deservingly met with repeated standing ovations.
Thursday, I’m looking forward to hearing some thoughts on data collection and evaluation; youth, family, teacher, and community engagement; and health service delivery in schools. The Prius Approach looks to deliver some interesting thoughts about targeted vs. universal services. I have a personal interest in the talk about building community through service-learning. And with all of them around, I’m intrigued to hear what the folks from Cincinnati Public Schools have been up to. It’s only day one and already shaping up to be a gathering those school reform giants would be proud of.
For more information about Jason, visit: www.jmkepler.com