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"Learning Communities" are all about bringing people from throughout a community together to focus on and address the needs of their youth. Such collaboration can provide powerful support to children and teensrebuilding, in a way, the sense of collective responsibility for the young of bygone eras. Participants are called stakeholders because they all have a real stake in the outcomehow well children grow and develop into productive and responsible adults. This kind of community development requires us to move in, figuratively speaking, and become insiders.
We cannot makepeople changeand cannot even influence them from the outside. As collaborators, though, we can help them through a process of analyzing how they might do things differently and can support them in doing so. It is easy for people to see when things are not working: that children are not learning as they should, or that teens seem directionless and unmotivated. They are eager to try to fix these things, when given an idea how, because the outcome is so important to them. While we cannot graft our programs onto those at schools, community centers, or public housing sites, we can support them in establishing programs that theybelieve to be important. If the planning and collaboration is good, they can come to believe in ideas that may have originated with us strongly enough to adopt as their own. When that happens, we can move on to a new area of the community to start the process over again. The distinction to note is that programming imposed from outside and run by non-community members is certain to disappear along with the outsiders. Only activities truly "bought into" by stakeholders will survive after the outside consultants have left.
The point of the process, of getting disparate elements of the community involved, is to get the primary work of the cultureraising the next generationdone. It is to enculturate children, to educate them, to help them develop their natural strengths, and to assist them in setting and achieving goals. While our motivation may be to produce future scientists, and our strategies may be aimed at the deficits in teaching and learning and career planning that forestall the making of scientists, it is also undeniably true that the programs and processes we foster are good for all children and families. We deliberately and consciously avoid efforts to "pipeline" young people into technical fields regardless of what is good for them as individuals, yet we believe many of them will move in that direction anywayand for all the right reasons.
All of our programs exhibit some "learning community" characteristics: they emphasize the development of ongoing relationships; they recruit participants from different stakeholder groups; they strive to place people in roles that are natural for them; and they use a deliberately collective and non-hierarchical leadership structure. Because we are focused on helping children and developing their capabilities, we go where they are: schools, community and recreation centers where they live, and church-based after-school centers. The three communities in which we have worked in recent years are Pontiac, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor; our programs differ in each. In Pontiac, we work in and through the schools. In Ypsilanti, we reach the same children both in school and at a church-based community center. In Ann Arbor, we reach teens mostly in schools and younger children mostly in community centers at or near public housing sites. Our specific tasks for learning communities are
Our partnership with Owen Elementary School of the School District of Pontiac has thrived for six years, despite the distance that keeps us from bringing in volunteers as we do in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. CUOS Education Outreach provides halftime support for Susan Shoemaker, Learning Community Coordinator at Owen, with the school supporting her for the rest of the day. Ms. Shoemaker's dynamic personality, willingness and ability to learn and develop new skills, and tenacious adaptability must be credited for a great deal of the program's success. During the 1999-2000 school year, she
This Learning Community Coordinator (LCC) and her Community Resource Room are an established and valued part of the school culture now, which the district's new superintendent would like to see replicated in each of its buildings. We are in discussions on how this might be done. Our preference would be for Ms. Shoemaker to remain partly in the employ of the University of Michigan, so that she and the new LCC's she would supervise could return regularly to the university for training and assistance in troubleshooting implementation problems. We also would wish to proceed incrementally, rather than trying to expand so exponentially. We do not yet know what form this collaboration will take, but are excited at the prospects and pleased at the endorsement of our model. It would essentially be a school district program, as we pass the baton to the real stakeholders in the community.
The science club program at the Community Church of God Opportunity Center continued to do well, and we are seriously evaluating which of our services are best suited for their model and development. Their volunteer homework tutors have observed and helped with a year's worth of science activities and could handle it themselves now. This is the intended culmination of a developmental process: the first year at a new site, we bring in programs and people to make them happen; the second year, we encourage local stakeholders to become the manpower under our guidance; after a third year at most, the true stakeholders should be ready to take over the whole show. To be honest, this process has already occurred more than once at the Opportunity Center over the past 15 years or so. Bringing in too many outside volunteers always has the effect of subtly encouraging the congregation's volunteers to "retire." Center Director Beverly Tyler has expressed the congregation's desire to "reclaim" their program. We will most likely back off on bringing university volunteers in the coming year, providing instead training and support for the center's own volunteers to use the lessons we have developed for use at all our science club sites.
Our involvement with George Elementary School has undergone yet another transformation. In 1998-99, we tried to share one parent employee as both a Learning Community Coordinator and a technology trainer. This turned out to be way too ambitious, leaving her with essentially two full-time jobs! To fill the LCC vacuum temporarily, we hired a recent UM graduate to bring in and coordinate volunteers to run in-classroom science clubs for the year. While appreciated and successful, these clubs were not the ideal way to develop local stakeholders, as the teachers and principal depended upon college student volunteers coming in from UM and Eastern Michigan University. We had a pull-out rather than reach-in program, and we don't know whether new approaches to learning science were integrated into the classrooms.
We did not attempt to continue this program in 1999-2000, partly because we know how it undermines local stakeholder development to bring in too many non-community members. Instead, we cast about for someone to fill the LCC role. Doris Calvert, our onetime parent coordinator for the mentoring program at an Ann Arbor high school, decided she would prefer to work with younger children, and at a school where she was not known by staff as the mother of a student. After much discussion with Principal Sharine Buddin, Doris decided to organize a garden club at the school, which was sorely in need of some beautification after recent renovations. The principal and staff had hoped to organize such a project for several years, but needed someone to make it happen. This is a perfect example of how the wider Learning Community can provide the impetus to help staff and students realize a project of their own design. Representatives from each fourth and fifth grade classroom were chosen, and they and their parents signed contracts acknowledging that they would miss some classroom time and have to make up work at another time in order to participate. Each of these representatives reported back to his or her room on how the planning and execution of the courtyard garden projects were proceeding. The activities were explicitly associated with Michigan Content Standards on classification of living things, requirements for life, and plant parts. The club will expand its efforts in the fall.
Working directly with the principal and teachers, Mrs. Calvert has been preparing for an expanded role at George, as well. The school is transforming itself into a Multiage Academy this fall, while also implementing a new, project-based science curriculum. Both changes are being facilitated by extensive training for the teachers, and Doris has been attending along with them. The Montessori-like training by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation has been especially valuable. Her role at George will be to assist teachers in the new territory of "experiment stations" and other hands-on activities and to try once more to coach a local mother to take over as Learning Community Coordinator. As it turns out, Doris is a great person for this job: although she has lived in Ann Arbor for many years, she was born and raised in Ypsilanti and continues to have ties there. She also understands well how we operate, from her years with us and her participation in last summer's Research Experience for Teachers program exploring both the Center's scientific research and recent pedagogical research. We expect great things during the coming year.
It is worth mentioning that we seriously explored two grant-based opportunities to expand our learning community model districtwide within the School District of Ypsilanti. We developed a proposal and submitted a letter of intent for the National Science Foundation Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education program. This project would have used science and engineering graduate and upper-level undergraduate students within the schools to improve science teaching and learning through hands-on activities and inquiry-based projects and to expose children to a wide variety of technical careers. In the end, we decided against submitting the proposal, because we found ourselves twisting our beliefs and intentions to fit its criteria. We thought, for example, that a minimum requirement of 20 hours a week was too much for undergraduates in demanding programs or for graduate students either taking heavy class loads or trying to conduct serious research at the same time. In a way, the program seemed designed more to serve the college students' need for financial support than the K-12 schools' needs for outside assistance and expertise. The crowning blow to our hopes for this project was being informed that some of the graduate students we had in mind would be ineligible for the program, which mandated that they be pursuing degrees in technical fields. At least two of our longtime student workers, about to earn their bachelor's degrees in engineering, are very interested in obtaining graduate degrees in education or community development. We thought they would be ideal candidates to work in K-12 schools, possessing technical expertise and seeking pedagogical or community-oriented insight.
Instead of trying to make ourselves fit a proposed model, we decided to look for funding with fewer strings that would allow us to expand upon what we already do and believe in. Accordingly, we submitted a proposal for the Lucent Technologies Foundation K-16 Grants Program that would have matched UM undergraduates with district-supported Learning Community Coordinators to replicate the model we developed at Pontiac's Owen Elementary School in each of Ypsilanti's six grade 1-5 elementary schools. Again, the goal was to infuse project- and inquiry-based learning opportunities into the curriculum, augmented by career exploration activities. The University of Michigan was limited to one institutional proposal for this Request for Proposals, and ours was not chosen to be forwarded to the foundation.
Our efforts in our home community amounted to a major expansion during 1999-2000. We brought science clubs into community centers at four more public housing sites and expanded our mentoring efforts at Pioneer High School and at the Neutral Zone teen club, as well as our joint programs with the Downtown Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club. We have found that it is easier to reach our young target population of at-risk and minority children at community centers rather than within the Ann Arbor Public Schools. For teens, we are attempting the same kind of outreach at the Neutral Zone, so as not to limit our "customers" to Pioneer, with which we have an established relationship.
In addition to the long-standing hands-on science program at Peace Neighborhood Center, and the program now run by an engineering professor and his students at North Maple Estates, we began working at Arrowwood Hills Community Center, Bryant Community Center, Hikone Recreation Center, and Pinelake Village Community Center (see Science Clubs Web page.) These sites were chosen because they are also sites for the Serendipity Reading Clubs, with whose founders we have had a collaborative relationship. We see this as one more night to keep the same children productively busy. We helped steer a University of Michigan Circle Krun program (Students Against Violence Everywhere) to one of these sites, too, to offer a third evening of activity. Our summer Camp Discovery participants come from this same pool of children, so that the children have multiple contacts in continuing relationships with adults who care.
We have continued to provide planning, training, and support, including database maintenance, for the Kiwanis career mentoring at Slauson Middle School and Pioneer High School. After development and piloting of this career exploration mentorship, it has been soundly adopted by the Kiwanis Club for the foreseeable future. The Club revived its Sponsored Programs Committee and, through it, pledged to fund a University of Michigan student to work part-time to supplement the mentoring with group workshops to serve more young people more quickly with the same kind of exploration opportunities. This student, aerospace engineering senior Karyl Shand, has coordinated mentoring at Pioneer for three years now. She has been developing and piloting the career workshops this summer, financially supported by the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Come fall, she will be offering them at Pioneer through its Career Center, as well as at the Neutral Zone.
Academic mentoring continued at the Neutral Zone through the summer, in small numbers. The Neutral Zone management wishes to expand this program, for which we provide training and database maintenance. They will hire a university work-study student, trained and supervised by Reach Out!and CUOS K-12 Outreach, to coordinate academic mentoring thereexpanding the program through active recruitment and matching of mentors with teens.
The program at Pioneer High School will attempt, once again, to foster closer ties between mentors and the teachers of teens they mentor. This effort seems particularly important now, as we lose the principal and teacher most closely identified with and supportive of the program. The Reach Out!coordinator is training a successor, as she moves into a new role of coordinating career mentoring programs.
It is interesting to note in passing that our Reach Out!coordinators have established the habit of finding and training successors as they approach graduation. They are building their own outreach networks among peers, with a serious stakeholder commitment to this K-12 mission.
Meanwhile, however, we continue to regret not having been able to expand the academic mentoring program to other schools within the district. The Neutral Zone program seems like the best short-term way to open the opportunity for mentoring to all teens in the community who genuinely desire it. It will not have some of the advantages of in-classroom mentoring, but will offer more schedule options for both students and mentors.
We hope to begin a partnership with the Bethel AME Church in Ann Arbor, helping them to add some science fun to their new latchkey program. This program serves many of the same children we meet at the Arrowwood Hills Community Center, so it fits with our desire to see the same children as frequently as possible. We continue to believe that black churches, with their commitment to social and educational programming, are an excellent entree into that community. Many churches are now offering tutoring and/or homework assistance services to children and teens; we hope to help them expand offerings to include mentoring programs, career counseling, science activities, and family outings. Frankly, we hope to steer them away from traditional tutoring and toward the less structured reading and writing activities that used to be fostered within families and homes, since we are convinced that moreof what is notworking in schools will be ineffective. Our talks with the pastor at Bethel have produced some exciting plans. The church will provide funding for a club coordinator we will supervise, who will provide science activities one day a week there. Her volunteers will come not from the university community but from the church's youth group Nubian Princesses (a year-long rites-of-passage group for girls about 10-13 in age). This, of course, is a sneaky way of exposing them, too, to the science activities, and of helping them develop leadership skills. Our intention is to bring in Karyl and her personal discovery and career exploration workshops for this youth group, as wellin yet another example of the blurring of lines between our sites and programs. We are delighted with the idea of beginninga partnership in consulting mode, thus avoiding the awkward hand-off from our volunteers to theirs later on.
We have also been conversing with the director of the Youth Enrichment and Self-Development (YES) program that provides youth programming in 12 churches in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas. We are considering a consulting role in which we would share our lessons and units, offer training for their coordinators, and perhaps develop a Web site for their program.
We see all of these developments, especially the commitments of funds and of volunteer mentors from the Kiwanis Club, the Ann Arbor Schools, the Neutral Zone, and Bethel AME Church, as evidence of real collaboration among stakeholders. Rather than just bringing in programs and volunteers, we are metaphorically teaching people to fish, providing the rods and the bait, while they pay for our consulting services. The multiple cross-connections among groups and individuals are strengthening the whole community in its ability to serve the needs of children and teens.
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|A.||Mission, Goals, Strategies||D.||1999-2000 Program Summaries|
|B.||Structure and Funding||III.||Academic and Career Mentoring Programs|
|C.||Summary of Outcomes||A.||Program Description and Goals|
|D.||Five-Year Program Summaries||B.||Program Implementation and Plans|
|I.||Learning Communities: Overview||1.||Pioneer High School|
|A.||Pontiac: Accomplishments and Plans||2.||Slauson Middle School|
|B.||Ypsilanti: Accomplishments and Plans||3.||The Neutral Zone|
|1.||Community Church of God||4.||Owen Elementary School|
|2.||George Elementary School||5.||Camp Discovery|
|3.||Grant Explorations||C.||Anecdotal Evaluations|
|C.||Ann Arbor: Accomplishments and Plans||D.||1999-2000 Program Summaries|
|2.||Career Mentoring||A.||Technology Implementation|
|3.||Academic Mentoring||B.||Usage Statistics|
|4.||Possible New Church Involvement||C.||Anecdotal Feedback|
|5.||Evidence of Systemic Change||V.||Research Experiences for Teachers|
|II.||Science Clubs||A.||Program Description and Goals|
|A.||Program Description and Goals||B.||Program Implementation for RET 2000|
|B.||Program Implementation at Sites||C.||Continuation of RET 1999|
|2.||Community Church of God||A.||Organizational Chart|
|3.||George Elementary School||B.||Scope and Sequence of Goals|
|4.||Owen Elementary School||C.||Web-Site Home Page|
|C.||Anecdotal Evaluations||D.||Partners List|