T-0. Brazil, here we come! With my bags finally packed and H-1 officially over, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on this course so far, and get us all pumped for the two weeks ahead.
Before I start, I’d just like to add to the chorus of praise for our fantastic trip leaders. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of background in the education sector, I have learned a tremendous amount over the past five weeks and that is truly thanks to their hard work, their thoughtfulness in creating our curriculum, and the amazing speakers that they have been able to bring in. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a class on education would have such great teachers.
Last week, for example, again thanks to the efforts of our fantastic organizers, we had the opportunity of hearing from not two, but three leaders in the educational space. First off was Gilberto Dimenstein, a world-renown journalist in Brazil, who spoke to us about his “Neighborhood Schools” initiative. The premise: transform the whole neighborhood into a school and everyone benefits! He showed us a video that was quite inspiring. Some images that particularly stood out: a whole neighborhood engaged in re-painting the school; graffiti as art class; the school auditorium transformed into a community theater; cooking classes in addition to math classes; and young children teaching older adults how to use the internet.
To me, this idea of integrating school with everyday life just makes sense. School is such a central place in a child’s life, why not make it the center of community life as well. More engaged community members leads to more engaged parents, leads to more engaged students. Furthermore, by bringing in prominent community members, children gain exposure to the types of opportunities available to them outside of school and how what they are learning in school can actually be applied to the real world. It also signals to children that we value them enough to include them in the conversation – something that can often be overlooked in the discipline-focused lecture-style teaching that so often prevails.
And it would seem that Dimenstein is not alone in his thinking. Just recently President Obama announced the 21 recipients of national “Promise Neighborhood” planning grants. Modeled after the huge success of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children Zone’s, the idea of Promise Neighborhoods stems from the notion that children will do better at school when the school benefits and engages the community as a whole. In Promise Neighborhoods, schools provide access not only to education, but also to health resources, sports, music and the arts, as well as career services and continuing education for parents. As Secretary Sebelius put it: “Strong communities start with healthy children who have safe places to live and play and high quality educational opportunities that put them on the road to success. Creating these strong communities requires everyone, including the federal government, to work together.”
To me this is a powerful model and one that I am eager to explore more. Lucky for me, on Monday we will actually have the opportunity to visit one of these community schools that Dimenstein described. This visit will also help to shed light on the research project that my team and I are working on: a case study of the Harlem Children’s Zone and how this model compares to Dimenstein’s Learning Neighborhoods. It should be interesting to see where the similarities and differences lie.
Well I think that’s all for now, but stay tuned for further updates!