Jennifer Burger - "National Service Members Supporting Change in Flint Community Schools and Community "
Whew! I am coming up on my second full-term in AmeriCorps and my final month as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, it is incredible to see what one person can accomplish within two years of National Service! As an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with the University of Michigan-Flint, I have been able to support the revitalization of Community Education within Flint Community Schools. Within the last year the Crim Fitness Foundation, in partnership with the C.S. Mott Foundation, the United Way of Genesee County, and many, many other partners have worked diligently to offer my community, the Flint Community, a holistic approach to supporting our residents in achieving a healthy and successful life. Although our team put in a lot of long-days and dealt with challenging situation, at the end of my term I feel so accomplished because of all of the work we completed and the partnerships we fostered. I wish I could tell you about all of the work we accomplished, but you’ll have to wait for when I have time to write a book about my time in National Service!
Instead of giving you a book, I am going to tell you all about my favorite AmeriCorps VISTA service. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, I was able to work with a group of residents and community partners, such as the Crim Fitness Foundation, to start a Crim Community Walking/Running Club. My work with the residents surrounding the Brownell- Holmes STEM Academy in Flint, MI, has given me a greater insight into the work of community organizers. The work did not come without challenges, but honestly, it all came down to persistence and taking the first step. With the Walking/Running Club, it literally was just taking that first step! Over the summer our Walking/Running Club officially met weekly, but participants met throughout the week. We were able to increase our distance from a half mile to over four miles! In the month of August, now that Summer School is over, the group will be hosting 45 minute health and wellness education workshops before our group. The Walking/Running Group also had a great impact in the community. Throughout the summer, residents surrounding the school have come to know our group as the “Crim Group”, as we take over their streets on Monday afternoons. The Walking/Running Group’s presence in the neighborhood impacts neighborhood safety and allows neighbors to know that their neighborhood is a place where people want to be.
After my service term, I am happy to say I have been offered a position within the Community Education Initiative as the Community School Assistant with the Crim Fitness Foundation. Much of my work will be surrounding the Community Education Initiative and supporting the work of the Community School Corps Operation AmeriCorps grant, which the City of Flint was awarded through CNCS. In Flint, we are excited to create partnerships with schools, in order to increase access to a happy and healthy life for all of Flint residents!
“Stand up and cheer, stand up and cheer for Fenton High, for today’s the day we raise the orange and black above the sky” or at least that is how I remember by high school fight song going. I will admit I had to clap my hands and stomp one of my feet at my desk to remember. For most people their school, their mascot, and the community which they were raised in are their fondest memories as well as a point of great pride. For many residents of Flint they have not lost their pride in their city or schools, but realities of declining enrollment and new barriers to education have increased in visibility and affect. As the community feels the strong effects of underfunding and cyclical poverty, a number of large foundations and organizations have come together to re-imagine Community Education in Flint. Emphasizing community partnerships has become increasingly important in the Flint Community Schools as the District was required to go through an extensive planning process to eliminate their growing deficit as student enrollment rates have dropped. This issue is not unique to Flint, but is becoming more typical across the nation as funding for K-12 and higher education has been cut. In Flint, a partnership between the Flint Community Schools, the City of Flint, and a group of funders, has created a re-investment into Community Education. I am dedicating my 2nd year of National Service to creating strategies to connect the University of Michigan- Flint to the Flint School District and the greater Flint Community.
Community Education as a nationwide model originated in Flint, as an initiative which Charles Stewart Mott and Frank Manley in 1935. Mott and Manley envisioned community schools as assets to the community which should be open to all members of the public for enrichment classes and activities. Flint was the model for community education until the 1970’s when the decline in population and students would eventually eliminate funding for the initiative. Although Flint discontinued Community Education, many cities, non-profits, and school districts across the nation continue to build on Flint’s model. Widely known models are the Harlem Learning Zone, Citizen Schools, and the Netter Center at Penn State.
Community Education is a growing concept in K-12 education. The concept focuses on attaching more community partners to public and sometimes charter schools. Community partners can offer a range of resources such as tutoring, health services, cross-generational education courses, and extra-curricular programs. Schools which embrace this concept often have extended hours and are open on the weekends. Throughout the last four months, I, as a MNA AmeriCorps VISTA member through the University of Michigan-Flint University Outreach, have worked to establish strong relationships with staff and faculty at Brownell-Holmes STEM Academy. The STEM Academy is the pilot site for the new Community Education Model through Flint Community Schools. The working group of the Flint Community Schools, the City of Flint, and funders chose Brownell-Holmes Stem Academy because of its large student body and the schools emphasis on STEM education. The Crim Fitness Foundation has hired a Community Education Coordinator to lead the effort of increasing resources and partners into all Flint Schools in the coming years.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!