“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!