A recent report from America’s Promise Alliance looks at four communities who strove to expand opportunities for their underserved students. With support from the Ford Foundation, these communities leveraged local resources to expand opportunities in a variety of ways.
America’s Promise Alliance is an organization, founded in 1997 with the support from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and previous presidents: Nancy Reagan (standing in for her husband Ronald Reagan), Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. The organization strives to create places and situations for students to succeed.
Their report, Expanded Learning, Expanded Opportunities, highlighted the community efforts and the six critical lessons gained from the project as a whole. The four communities that were the focus included:
- Grand Rapids, Michigan – they created a new network of community collaborations that worked in their school districts to tutor and mentor students.
- Louisville, Kentucky – where they sought to expand capacity and participation in their community. Through this expansion, they hoped to raise awareness about programs and resources available.
- Memphis, Tennessee – where they used innovation from the outside to help their schools on the inside. They called it the “Memphis Model” and had programs such as Peer Power.
- Rochester, New York – schools redesigned the learning day, incorporating community organizations into the normal school day for expanded opportunities for their students.
From these case studies, I think the biggest lesson they learned was about community collaboration and support. Their first critical lesson is that collaboration is key, but it’s a lot of hard work. However, when you leverage the resources you have and work towards a greater goal, there is a better chance of making a sustaining impact.
That’s where libraries can come in. I’ve written a bit on studies about after-school programs during my year blogging for YALSA. I kept asking questions to librarians in the field about how their libraries could play a role in after-school programming. However, after reading this report, I want to flip that question: how does the library become a key collaborator and partner? How do we engage actively with our community, especially our schools, and find ways to work within a district? How can we help raise and expand capacity within our libraries which will hopefully spread throughout the community? That might mean we need to “turn outward” (the buzzword right now) and do engagement outside the walls of our physical library space.
And YALSA has lots to say on community collaboration. From our Wiki section devoted to partnerships, to simply searching the YALSA blog with the tag of “collaboration” brings up great articles and examples from the past. The idea of collaboration even ties into the national campaign ALA is devoting time and energy to, Libraries Transform. (And even more specifically with ALA’s collaboration with the Harwood Institute, Libraries Transforming Communities).
My experience so-far in graduate school and my work experiences show that engagement works best when you are actively present and willing to listen. It seems in these case studies that community involvement was constant and this will hopefully lead to a sustained effort. What is important is that once connections are made, they still require work to keep those relationships vibrant. Every day we can have the choice to strengthen relationships and that takes time and effort. But as we can see from these case studies, it’s worth it.
America’s Promise Alliance also released a study this October looking at mentorships with high school students. There’s an interesting article from Huffington Post about one of the students who took part in the mentorship and I think this study is a nice compliment to their expanded learning report.
What do others think of these studies and how do you see your library engaging with the community as a whole?