How are unemployment, asthma, and attendance related to one another? The answer to this question may not seem intuitive, but it was recently a discussion topic at the South Bronx Rising Together Education Summit that we attended on July 26th.
The Education Summit, hosted at Hostos Community College, brought together leaders and education stakeholders from various boroughs to discuss key issues in the education space, and to brainstorm potential cross-disciplinary solutions to achieve systems-level change.
South Bronx Rising Together (SBRT), a collaborative network of service providers and community stakeholders hosted the event. SBRT’s work spans various aspects of community life, such as healthcare and education.
The gathering focused on four initiatives in particular: “All In,” dedicated to decreasing chronic absenteeism, “All Clear,” dedicated to asthma support methods for healthy school environments, “All Star,” dedicated to increasing the number of youth achieving grade-level reading proficiency by third grade, and “All Work,” dedicated to decreasing the youth unemployment rate.
With more than 180 attendees, each with slightly different perspectives, there was much information and data to share and key takeaways to learn.
#1: No effort is too small. Sometimes, simple solutions make big impact.
Kinvolved’s CEO, Miriam Altman, led a presentation for the “All In” initiative, alongside Ronald Cope from the Children’s Aid Society. During the session, participants shared their schools’ attendance solutions. We learned some innovative approaches and solutions from their feedback — schools and districts have been fighting absenteeism in creative ways.
For example, Mr. Luis Torres, Principal at C.S. 055 Benjamin Franklin, explained how his staff had noticed a sharp decline in attendance on rainy days. Parents were not bringing their children to school when there was inclement weather. So, Mr. Torres made an investment in umbrellas, which the school then distributed to families.
This school team found that, by simply providing umbrellas to families, they saw a drop in rainy-day absenteeism. This solution, however seemingly simple and maybe obvious, worked. It worked because the school team took notice of trends, and came to understand the needs of its students’ families.
We also learned about an intervention aptly named the Walking School Bus. At one school, many students were late or absent because they did not have an adult available to bring them safely to school. To solve this challenge for hard-working parents, the Walking School Bus created a safe, active walking route for students to travel to school as a group. The route is guarded by adults from the community, who lead students to school.
Walking School Bus programs are gaining widespread commonality. Many schools have begun to implement Walking School Bus programs, not just to increase attendance, but for its added health benefits, too. By fostering a safe and active way to get to school, one school eliminated this previous attendance barrier for many students.
The umbrella giveaway and Walking School Bus efforts reaffirm that even the simplest efforts to tackle chronic absenteeism can have tremendous effects. In both of these cases, the solution requires little financial investment. Instead, these grassroots and community-initiated responses offer innovative approaches that coordinated existing resources to help boost local schools’ attendance. Even small, low-cost gestures can have large impacts for children and families.
#2: Personalization makes a huge difference to student learning.
Deneisha Thompson, SBRT’s Facilitator, and Michael Sharp, a community volunteer, led a discussion for the “All Work” initiative that centered around youth unemployment in the South Bronx. One goal for SBRT is to reduce unemployment for youth ages 20-24 from 26.7% to New York City’s citywide average of 19.3% by December 31, 2020.
These high unemployment rates show that employment is clearly a challenge for many young adults. The New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) is aware that students should be “career ready” and “college ready” by the time they graduate high school. The NYC DOE has standards for these metrics, which they refer to as “domains.”
What does it mean to be “career ready?” After all, “career ready” can be interpreted in many different ways. The NYC DOE separates its answer to this question into the following categories: Academic Skills, Academic & Personal Behaviors, Academic Programming, and College & Career Access.
Participants first discussed strategies to redefine what it means to be “career ready.” Attendees then challenged the city’s standards and domains for career readiness. One key takeaway from the group discussion was that the NYC DOE’s standards would likely be more effective if they were more personal.
Key personal preferences, such as choice, interest, and student-centered plans are lacking, said Summit participants. One attendee mentioned the importance of storytelling, and how one’s personal narrative helps individuals carve out their goals and ambitions, which are arguably very important for one’s career.
Another attendee mentioned the importance of mentorship. Mentorship and guidance can allow students to create a more personalized “college and career readiness plan.” The current standards, however, do not name mentorship as a crucial element of the program.
By promoting students’ development of personalized and targeted approaches to defining their interests and setting their goals, students take initiative for their educations and futures. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to college and career readiness. Creating an individualized experience helps students self-reflect and set personalized goals that allow them to measure their success on a more personalized metric.
#3: Realize the existing system-level limitations. Understand, then overcome.
Participants reflected upon the information that they learned from one another at the conclusion of the Summit. While reflecting on the “All Star” campaign for third grade reading performance, one attendee mentioned that the Bronx does not have a bookstore and raised a poignant series of questions: Why doesn’t the Bronx have a bookstore? How far can efforts to increase reading performance go without a bookstore readily accessible to youth in the community?
It’s true — there isn’t a general bookstore in the entire borough since its Barnes & Noble closed at the end of 2016. How can schools and communities create a culture that elevates literacy, without having access to a physical bookstore for miles?
This observation resonated with many in the audience. The education system is comprised of many different players and stakeholders. Cross-sector work can ameliorate barriers for students and make substantive impact. We can strengthen goals and outcomes through strategic partnerships. Investment into something like a bookstore for the community is an example of a for-profit initiative that can be crucial to the success of public endeavors.
#4: Intersectionality is crucial. Varying opinions are important.
Think about the key players in education. Stakeholders such as teachers, administrators, students, and parents may immediately come to mind. But how do these stakeholders interact with distinct, yet intrinsically associated sectors, like employment or healthcare?
It’s easy to silo issues when considering solutions to problems. However, it’s extremely important to understand the intersectionality between such issues — how they connect and respond to one another within the system.
One moment that resonated with me was when SBRT’s student intern, who was a student from the Bronx, who had just graduated from high school, was asked her opinion about topics important to the community. SBRT’s student intern mentioned things relevant to youth in their daily lives, like dating violence and bullying, and she brought up points, which other experienced, adult educational professionals working in the field may not have considered.
This scenario stressed the importance of collective action for impact. Different perspectives are important, whether that be from a healthcare perspective, student perspective, or teacher perspective. These varying perspectives allow programs to be all-encompassing, created to address complex, multi faceted needs of communities, and therefore, more likely to be effective.
Intersectionality and cross-sector work is extremely important to systems change within education. When SBRT’s student intern voiced her opinion on topics SBRT should further explore to increase its effectiveness, she was able to provide an important lens for the future framework for SBRT and the community’s action.
Where do we go from here? What’s next?
Kinvolved is creating a movement to elevate student attendance and combat chronic absenteeism. A movement cannot spread without the voices and involvement of the community. Active partnership with SBRT is one way that Kinvolved acts upon this approach.
SBRT’s work allows for a forum within the community. Community stakeholders are able to interact with one another and to brainstorm solutions to these large-scale problems. Chronic absenteeism and educational inequity cannot be eliminated by one specific individual or even one organization.
By leveraging partnerships and making connections between organizations with similar goals and initiatives, we can make even more impact within our communities. As one attendee mentioned during the “All Work” forum, “there is no way to make change without partners.”
Follow SBRT on Twitter to stay in touch and learn more about upcoming events.
See more pictures from the event below.
Alina Joharjian is a Business Development intern with Kinvolved this summer. She studies Public Policy at Brown University, where she is active in various community-service programming and initiatives. She has previous experience mentoring and tutoring elementary students in Providence, RI.