Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Benefits of Schools as Community Learning Centers

"My friends, it's time to get serious. The dumbing down of American education must end. If children need extra help to measure up, they should get it. Let's provide tutors, and call in the families, or keep the schools open late and open in the summer, too, if we must. But whatever we do, let's end this tyranny of low expectations once and for all."

--Richard W. Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education

The need for increased opportunities for children to learn and develop in safe and drug-free environments outside of regular school hours is clear. Without affordable, high-quality after-school care available to parents who work, many children must care for themselves or be supervised by older siblings responsibilities that distract them from school work. Lacking constructive community activities to engage them after school, children are vulnerable to drug use and gang involvement outside of school hours. In communities without libraries, many children do not have access to books and other information resources or adults who can help with challenging homework; as a result, some of these students may not learn the skills they need to become productive citizens.

This guidebook focuses on keeping neighborhood school buildings open as Community Learning Centers to give our children opportunities to enhance their learning and be involved in enriching activities in convenient, caring environments. Research shows the importance of keeping schools open as after-school and summer Community Learning Centers:

Few opportunities exist for young people. While there has been a growth in the availability of after-school care programs for children over the last 20 years, relatively few organized, extended learning opportunities exist. Extended learning programs in schools are even more scarce, especially for older children and youth. In 1995, there were 23.5 million school-age children with parents in the workforce. But as recently as 1993-94, only 974,348 children in public elementary and combined schools (just 3.4 percent of all public elementary and combined school students) were enrolled in 18,111 before- or after-school programs at public schools. Seventy percent of all public elementary and combined schools did not offer before- or after-school programs.

Parents want more access to extended learning opportunities but may face barriers in accessing them. A 1994 survey of parents found that 56 percent think that many parents leave their children alone too much after school. And principals have long seen a need for extended learning programs; in a 1989 survey, 84 percent of school principals agreed that there is a need for before- and after-school programs. Studies have identified some barriers to participation (e.g., hours of the program, transportation, concern over program activities and quality), the most frequently mentioned barrier to anticipation being parents' inability to pay the tuition and fees charged by programs. Barriers to offering programs have been identified, also, including the unwillingness of unions (teacher, paraprofessional, and custodial) to extend the hours of their members and charging high rental rates for the use of the school facility.

Youth are at greatest risk of violence after the regular school day. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are most at risk of committing violent acts and being victims between 3 p.m and 6 p.m.--a time when they are not in school at the end of the regular school day.

Organized activities help children resist unsafe behaviors and enhance learning. After-school and summer programs can offer the support and supervision children need in order to learn and to resist the influences of unsafe or violent behaviors. While some of the research is contradictory, children under adult supervision in formal programs that exhibit quality indicators (lower student staff rations, age-appropriate activities, academic and enrichment activities) demonstrate higher academic achievement and better attitudes toward school than children left alone or under the care of siblings. Community public school facilities can offer the venue for such programs, for, otherwise, from the last bell of the school day to the first bell of the next day--16 hours each day--one of the community's largest capital investments sits vacant.

Children in quality programs do better in school. Research indicates that program quality is very important. Students have more positive interactions with staff when student to staff ratios are low, staff are well-trained, and a wide variety of activities are offered. Students in quality programs may have better peer relations and better grades and conduct in school than their peers in other care arrangements.

Teachers and principals are recognizing the positive effects of good quality programs on their students. The Cooperative Extension Service found that in programs that had received their assistance, teachers reported that the programs helped the children to become more cooperative, handle conflicts better, develop an interest in recreational reading, and earn better grades. More than one-third of the school principals stated that vandalism in the school decreased as a result of the programs.

Youth need opportunities outside of the regular school day to be mentored by adults and introduced to new activities that they can master. Research clearly shows that positive and sustained interactions with adults contribute to the overall development of young people and their achievement in school. Mentoring middle school students in math and science is one important activity that can increase the likelihood of future college going. After-school activities also allow children and youth to explore and master activities (art, dance, music, sports) that can contribute to their overall well-being and achievement.

Children who spend more time in learning activities and organized extracurricular activities learn more. This is especially true for reading and an important research-based premise of the President's America Reads Challenge proposal. Also, students who are involved in extracurricular activities such as academic clubs, sports, student government, band, and special lessons show greater achievement.

Children want and need organized after-school activities. Children left to themselves or under the care of siblings after school experience greater fear of accidents and crimes and are more bored than other children. They also are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors and drug and alcohol use, and are more often the victims of accidents and abuse. Children who spend more hours on their own and who began self-care at younger ages are at increased risk.

By offering a safe learning environment before- and after-school and during the summer, schools can become Community Learning Centers that help children read, learn more, and avoid destructive or dangerous activities. The programs can be simple, focused on a single goal, and funded by reallocating existing resources. Or they can address an array of conditions, involve many community partners in a systems-building approach, and attract support from many sources. In both cases, after-school and summer learning opportunities in a safe, drug-free environment can make a profound difference in children's lives.


Related article:
Helm (1993) describes the planning, organization, and mission of the Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center in Peoria, Illinois.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

District 150 - please bring back inner city basketball rims

Yesterday evening the weather was perfect for being on the courts shooting hoops.
Photo taken at Keller School on North Knoxville Avenue.

South of War Memorial Drive, District 150 has removed all basketball rims. The rims were removed several years ago. As a result, children who are not fortunate enough to be members of the RiverPlex or some other facility, are left to their own means to find a basketball rim.

Recently, four young men climbed over my gated and locked back yard fence and had themselves a little game . It was actually kind of funny because I recognized them from the school where I volunteer. I didn’t get mad, but I gave them a good talk about what trespassing is and pointed them to the sign posted on my fence. However, I did assure them that if they did it again, I would call the police. I have since seen the youngsters at school and they are all very nice and make a point to say hello, no problems.

I am not sure why the basketball rims were taken down from inner city schools, but District 150 should really consider replacing them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

School Desegregation in Peoria, Illinois

A Staff Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, June 1977.

In 1966 when initial planning for desegregation began, minority students were concentrated in 9 of Peoria's 39 schools. Twenty of the city's schools had white enrollments of more than 98 percent, indicating the most minimal percentage of minority students in more than half the city's schools. Four schools were totally white.

The Board fully realized that the Peoria Public Schools must be integrated promptly to insure quality education and equality of educational opportunities for all children.

The plan was quickly put into effect to coincide with the fall 1968 opening of Peoria’s schools. A few incidents of limited physical violence occurred but the Peoria Journal Star, in its account of the desegregation process noted, "There were no major incidents. Busing, at least on a limited basis and as long as it did not involve advantaged whites, seemed to work well in Peoria.

In some respects, the Peoria schools during the 1970s began to look more segregated than even prior to the initiation of desegregation. In 1966 Peoria's minority students were concentrated in nine schools; eight of these schools failed to meet State guidelines because they had an over population of minority students. By the 1975-76 school year, the district had a total of nine schools which had an overpopulation of minority students by State standards.


On January 8, 1976, the Illinois Office of Education announced that Peoria District 150 was not in compliance with State desegregation guidelines. The State found 20 Peoria schools not in compliance and ordered the district to submit detailed desegregation plans. The order noted that failure to do so could result in a loss of funding and further legal action by the State. A new plan from the district has now been received by the State and is currently under review.

Superintendent Harry Whitaker agreed that Peoria's schools should be within the State guidelines, but has also argued that the district should not be made to bus white students to predominantly black schools to achieve this end:

"We believe in integration. There's no question about that," Mr. Whitaker stated, "but we don't believe in integration to the point that we have to move youngsters back and forth. We think that that is going to be detrimental....My goal is not to re-segregate District 150, but, hopefully, to maintain the community as it is now."

Read the entire report here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

School closings are ubiquitous 

After a planning session last night at God Father’s Pizza (and meeting house), concerned citizens are advertising a community wide protest, which is set for 5:15 p.m., prior to this evenings regularly scheduled board meeting. The protesters plan to call for the firing of Ken Hinton and the resignation of Board of Education President Dr. David Gorenz.

While I admire this groups’ “we ain’t gonna take it any more” attitude, schools all across the country are facing budget cuts due to the economic crisis. Peoria is not unique, schools are going to have to close here too. We (adults) could either choose to work with the School Board to make the transition for our students as smooth as possible; or we can continue to prolong the inevitable and risk damaging the moral of teachers and students by reacting with emotion filled protests.

Kids protest possible school closing
April 2, 2009
Lansing, Michigan - From Lansing State Journal -Dozens of students armed with picket signs and shouting "Save our school! Save Mt. Hope!" made their voices heard Wednesday night before a meeting about the potential closure of Mt. Hope Elementary School.

Fraser parents protest closing
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Charleston, North Carolina - Fraser Elementary School supporters continued fighting to keep their downtown school open by marching Monday to the Charleston County School Board meeting.

Parents Protest School Closing
March 23, 2009
Pennsecola, Florida - A local school is closing and the Monroe County Superintendent says the bad economy is to blame. The Monroe County Board of Education will be closing Frisco City High by the end of this school year. That's why parents and students were protesting outside the Monroe County Courthouse Monday, " we here today just to try to, you know, get our message out to the Board, that, hey we love our school and try to take a different approach to solving our money problems instead of just coming in and closing school," ...

Students Protest Irving Middle School Closing
March 19, 2009
Colorado Springs, Colorado - A moving billboard is the latest attempt to try to keep one Colorado Springs middle school open. About 30 parents and students gathered to protest the closing of Irving Middle School.

Students, parents protest school closing
Friday, February 27, 2009
New Jersey - A loud and boisterous protest was held Friday by hundreds of students in New Jersey. They are fighting to keep their school open after the archdiocese announced it was closing.
Chicago, Illinois - A group of parents camped out overnight outside the Chicago School Board. They want to make sure they'll get into this morning's meeting to protest a scheduled vote on closing more than a dozen local schools.