Brent Isaacs, AICP, Research Specialist for Neighborhood Revitalization Initiatives, is our September guest blogger.
At the end of August, CAP’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiatives was pleased to host Michael Schubert, Principal of Community Development Strategies in Chicago to discuss issues related to the Kendall-Whittier Promise Neighborhoods effort. Mike came to us by way of NeighborWorks America, an organization of which CAP is pleased to be a network member. Following our visit, he sent us a paper he wrote entitled Schools and Neighborhood Revitalization: An Invitation to New Thinking (Schools and Neighborhood Revitalization.pdf).
I was struck by the tone of this paper because it approached the subject from the perspective of whether neighborhood revitalization contributes to school improvement or academic achievement. Most of the literature that I have read is from the opposite perspective: how improving neighborhood schools assists in neighborhood revitalization. Clearly, while there is a symbiotic relationship between neighborhoods and schools that is not often understood, CAP’s primary interest is in the former perspective.
One of the key problems challenging educators is the role student mobility rates play. In neighborhoods where there is high mobility, it is often more difficult for neighborhood schools to achieve academically acceptable results. In other words, if students are always entering and leaving the school throughout the academic year, the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn important concepts is disrupted and inhibited. One idea Schubert suggests is that the mobility rate in schools could be partially addressed as a housing issue. He suggests that perhaps neighborhood revitalization organizations can contribute toward a reduction in student mobility by providing:
- Housing counseling for school parents to address issues related to involuntary mobility,
- A small loan and grant fund to help households buy homes or absorb rent increases, and
- A Housing development with targeted marketing to school parents.
Another idea that particularly caught my attention was targeting neighborhood revitalization efforts to make the areas around schools safer. Schubert says:
“We have Drug Free zones around schools, but we might want to think about “Blight Free” zones as a way of arresting decline around schools and making the paths kids travel less threatening”
Logic dictates if neighborhoods around schools are safer, students and parents may be more likely to ensure regular school attendance. Children can’t learn if they are not in school. Additionally, safety can also play a role in mobility. If parents feel that the neighborhood they live in is generally unsafe, they will often want to move for the sake of their children.
Lastly, I found Schubert’s idea of engaging the children with the neighborhood while in school- as part of school-community building efforts- to be intriguing. He maintained that there is educational value to be gained from service learning projects in the neighborhood for students and a curriculum focusing on the neighborhood helping them understand what is unique or special about the area where they go to school.
Schubert closes his paper with the following:
“This paper does not propose a Big Idea. Rather it invites a set of small scale actions that can begin to lay the groundwork for understanding in practice how efforts to educate children and revitalize neighborhoods can work to mutual benefit.”
This is just the beginning of my research on this topic. I am looking forward to reading further about neighborhood revitalization and academic achievement as I have time.