All over America neighborhoods are organizing to end the plague of inter-generational poverty. It started with the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) and got a big boost from President Obama’s Promise Neighborhood initiative. Only 21 neighborhoods got funding to create Promise Neighborhoods, but many other neighborhoods have struck out on their own. Last post, I told you about Lane County Oregon’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative. This time let me tell you what the I Have a Dream Foundation is doing in the second poorest elementary school in Oregon.
Jean Kjellstrand of our Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium discovered this gem as she networked with people and organizations trying to make a difference for children and families within the greater Portland metropolitan area.
Alder Elementary School is in the Reynolds School on the East Side of Portland. Close to 75% of the students speak English as a second language, many of whom are Latinos. The district is one of the most forward looking in the state. The citizens of the district can be proud of the highly skilled, dedicated, and frequently bilingual staff they have recruited for their schools.
The district and the I Have a Dream Foundation have come together around a plan that looks very much like the Promise Neighborhood approach—implementing evidence-based family, school, and neighborhood supports for successful child development from the prenatal period through adolescence. They are just getting started with many of the family and neighborhood efforts, but they start with a school that is simply wonderful.
Leanne Cox, the school’s counselor and Mark Langseth the CEO of the I Have a Dream Foundation in Oregon took Jean and I on a tour. The first thing you notice was all the information displayed around the school about college, careers, and what children need to have a successful future. Pennants and banners for colleges from all over the country. (The next day I ordered a pennant from my alma mater, the University of Rochester.) Posters showing kids as scientists, computer programmers, judges, etc. A bar graph showing the range of pay you are likely to get depending on the amount of education you get. Reminders are everywhere of the importance of going to college.
The other thing we noticed is just how nurturing the school is. As we walked through the halls multiple students came up to Leanne and gave her a hug. In the classrooms, hallways, and cafeteria, I did not see a single instance of misbehavior. Kids lined up, took turns, interacted positively, and smiled at me when I made eye contact. You could tell that this is a safe and caring environment; learning isn’t hampered by high levels of stress.
And the school is using evidence-based practices. They get DIBELS scores (a measure of reading-readiness that predicts success in learning to read) on every in-coming kindergartner. This will be important for evaluating their efforts to get parents and preschools to improve kids readiness. They have implemented Positive Behavior Support. They are carefully evaluating each student’s progress with frequent assessments and changes in teaching practices if needed.
Alder benefits from a very dynamic principal, Paz Ramos. While we didn’t meet him during this visit because of a scheduling conflict, Jean met him earlier and found him to be a compassionate, engaging, and inspiring principal who is able to relate to the difficulties of many of the students because of a similar background. His approach is right in line with acceptance-based principles. Mark described him talking to a child about something difficult that happened and encouraging he child to accept that it was hard and turn to what he was going to do today.
Leanne told us about an incident that brought tears to my eyes. She said that she got word that one boy had written that he was very sad. When Leanne followed-up with him a few days later, he said that the problem had been resolved. His mother had come home and told him that they would have to move for financial reasons. He sat her down and told her that that they could NOT move. He had to go to Alder because that was the only way he could get to college.
All over America, people are coming together around a set of research-based principles about nurturing young people’s successful development. In these difficult fiscal times, it will be hard to sustain them. But I am optimistic that America is on its way to ending its standing as the developed country with the greatest amount of child poverty. Inch by inch and row by row, neighborhoods are popping up that are doing all the right things to ensure children’s success. As the success of these efforts grow, more and more resources will be put into such programs. And, as a result, crime rates will fall, educational achievements will soar, and all of our citizens will prosper.