Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mini Plenary: Community Organizing and Community Schools

Written by: Liz Capparelli Thacker, Site Resource Coordinator for Norwood Community School, Knoxville, TN

A few weeks removed from the Community Schools National Forum has given me time to think back, reflect and process all the many things I observed and learned during that week. I loved getting to see a Cincinnati Learning Center, network with other resource coordinators from around the country, and attend sessions on many of the various components that make up community schools. One of the areas I had in mind to learn more about was community organizing. How lucky to find a panel mini plenary entitled “Community Organizing and Community Schools.”

The panel ranged from panelists who are doing the work of community organizing on a local level all the way to a national level. We were able to learn about how the community in East Los Angeles earned two new high schools to how parents came together in New York City to get every candidate running for mayor to talk about community schools during their campaigns. From the local level we moved to the national level where on May 13-17 there will be organizing actions across the county to continue the struggle for racial and educational justice and win the public schools all our children deserve. If you want to learn more about this week that will help mark the 60th anniversary of Brown V. Board of Education, please go to www.reclaimpublicednow.org.

As one works in community organizing, one needs to keep in mind the 3 Rs. Now I am not talking about the foundations of basic skills-oriented education program: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. When I refer to the 3 Rs of community organizing, I want you to think of Roots, Relationships and Resources. In communities, one will find that each community has deep roots that consist of the traditions and history. One can also find there are relationships that already in the community. Lastly each community has its resources in the form of community wisdom.

A community school fits right in with the idea of community organizing as one of our goals is to meet the needs of the community. The good news is organizing is a sustainable plan! In the world of education we are always hearing about budgets, community organizing though is a totally sustainable plan as communities aren’t going anywhere!!!

You may be wondering how to get started in community organizing. It really is about getting everyone working together. By everyone I am talking about parents, teachers, community members, community organizers and the youth. A few other things that were mentioned throughout the plenary is that once you have your key players mapped out, a demand for what is needed/wanted needs to be formulated – you must ask the hard questions! From there community organizing has begun and needs to be culminated and nurtured.

The final presenter of the panel was Jitu Brown. He was an extremely dynamic speaker and really got the crowd energized and was the perfect ending to the plenary. I leave you with his words, “A sustainable community school movement and a privatizing movement cannot coexist!” We are headed in the right direction, let’s keep the movement going! 

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