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Binghamton adds community schools coordinator
June 3, 2014Tweet
The Division of Student Affairs was in search of a community-based initiative to which it could commit long term and around which it could focus community engagement and service-learning efforts.
“Our criteria were to identify an initiative where we might “move the needle” on something of clear importance to the greater Binghamton community,” said Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs. “We spent a year in conversation with our community, looking for an initiative that would provide a broad enough context so that multiple academic programs and disciplines could contribute expertise and service-learning opportunities for students – and one that could capture the imagination of University and community partners.
“The community schools is where we landed, and the early interest of faculty and students, and the excitement in the community suggest we chose well,” he said.
As part of the community schools initiative, Binghamton University hired Pam Misener as a community schools coordinator to help develop the projects, involving a lot of students, as well as faculty and staff, to help make a big difference in the local community. Two other factors were considered as well, said Elizabeth Carter, assistant vice president for student development: To support and continue the work that the College of Community and Public Affairs had started with its SHARE grant after the grant ended, and to take advantage of New York state’s designation as a Promise Zone.
“Our Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) is doing a lot of wonderful things and taking care of day-to-day volunteer opportunities,” Carter said. “And CCPA did a wonderful job with the SHARE grant, working with the schools. It was such great work that we hated to see it end when the grant ended, so Brian (Rose) and Laura (Bronstein) collaborated on how to continue the progress.”
The local Promise Zone is unique in the state, Carter said. Most state-designated Promise Zones center on one school district. “When it was designated here, it became a county-wide Promise Zone, and the money is filtered from the state to the Broome County Mental Health Department,” she said.
That funding pays for four community schools coordinators, working with the Binghamton, Johnson City, Union Endicott and Whitney Point districts.
“So we have all of these things bubbling up, but we need a person on our end to be the Binghamton University community schools coordinator,” said Carter, “We hired Pam (Misener) half-time for one year.”
The community schools idea is a popular and proven way to connect parents and their kids with schools, Carter added. “The school can be seen as a hub and we can offer services in that school that go above and beyond what the school can offer. Our idea was ‘What can the University provide to be able to help these communities?”
Binghamton school district students are scoring in the bottom 10 percent in the state in terms of performance, said Carter – another reason the Promise Zone money came this way. Plus, cuts in support for students struggling with psychological and behavioral issues made the county mental health department the logical agency to oversee the funding.
“We’re really transitioning from SHARE and continuing the work that was already being done,” said Carter. “The directive is to be county-wide. There are other schools wanting to get on board, and BOCES is also part of this.”
Misener sees herself as someone who can connect the dots − the University with the schools, and the schools with the parents and students − to realize the community schools model. There is also a partnership with the Children’s Aid Society out of New York City, which provides a kind of Promise Zone technical coordination.
“Right now we’re doing a needs assessment in the different schools,” Misener said. “We have knowledge already, but the first step is always to work with the schools, and we’re beginning to engage in a more structured needs assessment with them.”
A Road Map proposal for more coordinator funding is also in the works. “These coordinators work with the administrators and parents, teachers and all different constituents and say ‘What do we need that Binghamton University can help us with?’” said Carter. “How do we address attendance issues? Kids can’t learn if they’re not in school. What does academic achievement or family achievement look like? How can the school also engage with community partners, including Binghamton University?”
Misener’s day can look like a whole host of things, she said. “One thing is that I’m learning about the University and what it can share. I’m also connecting with the coordinators in the different schools to see how we can be helpful with their needs and being part of the collective body as we create the infrastructure to support the Promise Zone,” she said.
Supporting the collaborative work that’s already happening is key for Misener, who is very pleased at how welcoming the larger body has been. “Not having to do all that legwork by myself is good, and the coordinators have been very welcoming to me in this work, and the University by extension.”
One way this work is happening is to afford our Binghamton University students the opportunity to fulfill internships through the Career Development Centralized Internship Program (CDCI), Misener said. “There are some in each school doing a number of things identified by the coordinators in those areas. Along with that comes the structure the University provides to the interns through the weekly internship seminars.
“These students (about 40 of them) have formed this amazing cohort,” said Misener. “Though they are all doing different things, they’re working with similar themes and having this shared experience that makes the learning around this exponentially greater than what can sometimes happen in this kind of effort. There’s a sense of camaraderie that you don’t always see to this degree.”
“One of the unexpected requests we received from Binghamton High School,” said Carter, “is the girls there really wanted to have a step dance group and do a flash mob. The coordinator put that on her list and we’ve got a student intern doing it who step dances and even teaches it, and she’s helping them to create a flash mob.”
A caveat for students: They can’t participate in these activities if don’t attend regular classes. But a recent talent show at Binghamton High School indicates progress, Misener said, when about 40 to 50 students performed before hundreds of people who came to the school to see the show and stuck around for pizza after.
“These were students and families who might not otherwise show this kind of connection to school and a level of engagement with the school that wasn’t there. We have to find that sweet spot between professionally knowing what’s needed but also having enough experience to know how to help create something the students are interested in,” Misener said. “If the kids are not excited about it, they won’t show up any more than for normal classes.”
The community schools involvement is such a positive one for the interns that a number of them looked for ways to remain through the summer, even as volunteers if necessary, said Misener. “Others are talking about rethinking their educational and career paths. It’s these kinds of transformative learning opportunities that not only benefit families and students at the sites, but our students and campus community as well.”
Volunteer efforts will be part of the overall plan as the program grows, Misener added, with the help of the Center for Civic Engagement. “It’s an area of growth that we are looking for in the next phases – how to bring that in as integral as the internship piece currently is,” she said. “And then there are so many other opportunities for people who are excited to do this that could become part of this community schools model.”
Misener accompanied other coordinators on a site and study visit to New York City recently to visit a middle school where this model is being used. After the end of the official learning day, there were lots of after school activities, she said, including an on-site bike repair shop on site where students would work on bikes and then go for a ride; a cook station where students learned about nutrition but then enjoyed the food they had prepared; and a science group that existed in part to support sending some students to a science camp in Turkey in the summer.
“Students were participating in activities that they are interested in and connected to,” said Misener. “You put all of that together with other family engagement activities during the school day when families are there learning to do all sorts of vocational, academic and general interest things in a family engagement room. All of this activity gets the parents who kind of know the school to be drawn in and be a part of the school.”
“For every person, no matter their interests, there is something to do,” said Carter. “These are the outcomes we want to see. People are starting to like school.”
Some community schools also have in-school health clinics to address physical, emotional and mental health issues; some have dental and vision clinics in house, so students don’t have to take time away from school or parents don’t have to take time off. “I can see taking flight with similar things here,” Misener said.
Binghamton schools would like a parent resource lab with computers and a training program for the parents, Carter said. “That’s what they’re creating and when people graduate from the program they would get to take a refurbished computer home. In Whitney Point, the parent resource room goal is to have 44 Binghamton University students come and monitor and be a resource when parents are there – a parent café.”
One thing that is happening now, in particular in Whitney Point, is to consider how to organize ourselves for the summer, Misener said. “It’s a gap and we don’t want to lose the connection, so how can we really use the summer? One great thing about the community schools model is it doesn’t lose sight of the remedial work that has to happen over the summer, but also the value added – where are the get-ahead opportunities. It’s about enrichment and getting ahead but also a time to have some fun and get prepared and excited for the year ahead of us.”