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Education and the Front Lines of Community Activism

End-of-event “goody bags” are usually filled with items reflecting the nature of the hosting organization and those given out by the 36th Council District Education Task Force were no exception.  The prize was a loose-leaf notebook developed by the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights School Teams and area community- based organizations.  It was a demonstration of the work involved in producing change and how synergy can be achieved between schools and community-based organizations when there is facilitation from organized and committed members of the community.
Convened by Councilman Albert Vann in May of 2002, the task force was charged to “help improve neighborhood public schools through strong parental and community involvement,” and the notebook is a record of works-in-progress of how that is done and continues to be improved upon.
It will no doubt be used by this gathering of educators, service providers and parents/guardians who work, many on their own time, to enable young people to have a fuller life.
The idea was to have parents, teachers and administrators identify the services that local schools needed and match them with existing community-based organizations that have expertise in those areas.  These service providers exist differently in each school, depending upon the emphasis and the needs that the school community, identifies.  These services exist as the Family Empowerment Center, a structure which need not be physical that interfaces between the school and the existing community services.

The most graphic example of collaboration between an educational facility and a community organization is that of the Bedford Academy and the Bedford YMCA.  Ms. Pamela Tate-McMollen, a parent coordinator at the academy, said they were brought together by former superintendent Lester Young, Jr., and held in place at the corner of Bedford and Madison Avenues through the efforts of Principal George Leonard and YMCA Executive Director John Rappaport.
Ms. Tate told a story indicative of how a tone of a school is set from the top down and how visionaries enable things to come true.   She said the neighborhood first perceived the academy students as “nerdy” and there to be taken advantage of.  “They tried in the beginning, until Mr. Leonard hit the streets and dealt with the top thug.  Now if they approach a child they say ‘don’t mess with that child.  That child goes to Bedford Academy.  Give it back.  Give what you took back.  Mr. Leonard will come after you.'”
John Rappaport spoke of the collaborative nature of the relationship developing between the Y and the academy and thanked Dr. Young for his “vision and perseverance to make it happen,” and bringing the academy to fruition.
Councilman Al Vann ceded his time to Dr. Young to speak about the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program (www.gmsp.org), a program for young people of color only.  Dr. Young said there is no SAT requirement but that “they do look at the grade point average which must be a minimum of 3.3 on a four-point scale.”  And a student who achieves this average taking the harder subject courses is rated better than a student with a higher average but a record of easy courses.  Also, the student must be “Pell-eligible,” have a nomination letter and a letter of reference.
“Of the applications we’ve received, 70% were female, 30% were male.  There’s something wrong with that,” said superintendent Young.  “When the application pool is 70/30 here’s what happens: 80% of the scholarships went to female students.  We have to get to our young men and encourage them to file these applications….This is an opportunity that we should not pass up.”
What was most interesting about the 80% figure, and which emphasizes its importance, is that it was better than the 90% of women to men present in the room from a population of educators, service providers and parents.
Rene Turner-Gregory, chair of the Education Committee of the Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Inc., urged the assembled school leaders to “reach out to these CBO’s”, saying.,  “The fact that they are here is certification of their desire to help you.”
And the notebook was certification of the work that has been done and the work that needs to be done.
David Mark Greaves

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