School House

by Mary Morse Marti | Apr 02, 2013
| 1 Comment

Summary:

We can eliminate the achievement gap in one generation! The School House is a model enrichment program that will ensure reading and writing mastery, school success, and life-skill and arts opportunities for all ages. Starting with one school and expanding to low-income neighborhoods across the city, we'll build literacy, developmental assets, and a future with our friends and neighbors.

The first school will operate from a home renovated for community use: a "School House." Live-in, fully vetted professional house parents will open doors from morning to evening, supported daily by a team of instructors and volunteers. The essential achievement for all participants will be reading and writing. Beyond this, the curriculum will include a full variety of life and creative skills for learners of all ages, from practical parenting to cooking, woodworking, gardening, bicycle maintenance, personal finance, basic home repair and much more.

The School House will be a neighborhood asset. Close enough to require no special transportation, staffed by culturally appropriate, sensitive and competent workers, and enriched with materials that engage hands and minds (paper, books, crafts, tools) participants will thrive in an environment that is typically experienced only by higher-income households.

Neighborhood children and families will form trusting and respectful relationships with instructors and each other and will acquire the proven, essential developmental assets that lead to life success. Participants will prosper as they stop by after school for homework help, book club or storytime, meet with other parents to learn about effective family communication strategies, gather evenings and weekends to bake bread, build kites, knit, conduct science experiments, or hang out in the kitchen to cook whatever's ripe from the backyard garden. Each school will buzz with several generations teaching, learning, experimenting, and growing together.

About You

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About You

First Name

Mary

Last Name

Morse Marti

City

Saint Paul

County

Ramsey

Country

United States, MN, Ramsey County

Website (if you have one)

Names of others who helped contribute to my idea

How did you hear about the Forever Saint Paul Challenge?

Twitter

About Your Organization (if applicable)

Organization Name (if applicable)

Organization Website

Organization Phone

Organization Address

City

Organization Country

United States

Your idea

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Title of your idea

School House

Give us the highlights of your idea for making Saint Paul great (2,000 characters maximum or approx. 250 words)

We can eliminate the achievement gap in one generation! The School House is a model enrichment program that will ensure reading and writing mastery, school success, and life-skill and arts opportunities for all ages. Starting with one school and expanding to low-income neighborhoods across the city, we'll build literacy, developmental assets, and a future with our friends and neighbors.
The first school will operate from a home renovated for community use: a "School House." Live-in, fully vetted professional house parents will open doors from morning to evening, supported daily by a team of instructors and volunteers. The essential achievement for all participants will be reading and writing. Beyond this, the curriculum will include a full variety of life and creative skills for learners of all ages, from practical parenting to cooking, woodworking, gardening, bicycle maintenance, personal finance, basic home repair and much more.
The School House will be a neighborhood asset. Close enough to require no special transportation, staffed by culturally appropriate, sensitive and competent workers, and enriched with materials that engage hands and minds (paper, books, crafts, tools) participants will thrive in an environment that is typically experienced only by higher-income households.
Neighborhood children and families will form trusting and respectful relationships with instructors and each other and will acquire the proven, essential developmental assets that lead to life success. Participants will prosper as they stop by after school for homework help, book club or storytime, meet with other parents to learn about effective family communication strategies, gather evenings and weekends to bake bread, build kites, knit, conduct science experiments, or hang out in the kitchen to cook whatever's ripe from the backyard garden. Each school will buzz with several generations teaching, learning, experimenting, and growing together.

Website address (if applicable)

Innovation

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What makes your idea different or unexpected? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The School House is a new model for community education designed specifically for at-risk neighborhoods. It focuses on the fundamentals of reading, writing, life skills and successful parenting to ensure that neighborhood families are school ready and achieve key developmental benchmarks. The School House will support the efforts of the Saint Paul Public Schools and local parents to provide children the foundations they need to succeed. We'll start with one model site, learn what works best and then expand across the city.

• The School House is a free, drop-in school for neighborhood residents of all ages. Because the School House is so easily accessible, neighborhood kids will visit frequently. Live-in staff "house parents" will reach out to the surrounding neighbors for several blocks. They will get to know all of the neighborhood kids, and will provide the reliable, personal, caring connection and support that research shows children need to succeed.

Children and families who earn low incomes can find it physically and financially difficult or even impossible to attend traditional, school-based community education or private enrichment classes. Research shows, however, that regular attendance at enrichment programs is a key predictor of student academic success. If we are to close the achievement gap in Saint Paul, then we need to bring the enrichment to our neighborhoods. No cars will be needed to get there, and no cost will be assigned to participate. The School House will be welcoming, safe, open, lit up in winter and cooled down in summer: an accessible, effective, irresistible neighborhood beacon to children and families who deserve the same educational enrichment opportunities as their wealthier Saint Paul neighbors.

• The School House assures reading and writing mastery for all through early childhood instruction, tutoring, book clubs, ELL and adult classes. We know that literacy is fundamental to success in all academic areas. The School House will have a rigorous reading program, which to participants will simply look like fun. House parents, instructional staff and volunteers will be trained in appropriate age-level reading goals and will employ multiple strategies to help participants reach them.

• The School House offers life skill instruction in child development, cooking, gardening, crafts, home maintenance, financial literacy, and more. Individuals who are poorly paid are often hard-pressed to find the time and money it takes to expand their own skill sets. Yet learning how to manage one's finances, maintain one's home, and raise a healthy family should not be a luxury. The School House will offer ongoing classes and hands-on workshops in topics that will enrich families and contribute toward their success.

• The School House provides homework help to all ages. Volunteers from all around town will work with participants on their schoolwork after school and on weekends. Homework will be a daily ritual at each house, but far from a chore it will be another opportunity for children and adults to connect with a friend or a mentor and to attain mastery of a subject or process. School House staff and volunteers will communicate with their students' school teachers in order to support each student in their progress.

• The School House enlists the skills and commitment of volunteers in everything from instruction to school maintenance. There is a huge untapped volunteer corps just waiting for an opportunity like the School House. From college students to Generation X-ers, empty nesters and retirees, just about everyone who learns about the School House thinks it would be fun to volunteer there. That's because everyone has a skill they can offer that would make a real difference in another person's life. You may not want to be a reading partner, but you may want to show someone how to make lasagna, or where to plant a tree, or when to bleed a radiator. If you're someone who loves astronomy or bike repair, be sure to stop by!

Impact

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This Entry is about (Issues)

How will your idea make a difference in Saint Paul? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

Research tells us that after-school enrichment programs are a key contributor to student success. Unfortunately, low-income children in Ramsey County don't get these opportunities. Ramsey is ranked 85th out of 87 Minnesota counties for extracurricular engagement. That's third from the bottom!

Saint Paul's low-income students fall behind their wealthier peers in nearly every measure of school achievement. Lots of energy and resources are being directed toward closing the achievement gap within the traditional classroom, but youth spend only about 6 hours each day at school. What happens after school and on weekends is critical. Even though enrichment programs may be key to student success, they're expensive and hard to get to in many at-risk communities.

The School House turns that on its head, by providing neighborhood-based learning centers geared to our lowest-income children and their families. The School House will be piloted in a very low-income Saint Paul neighborhood where the population is heavily weighted toward youth ages 1 - 18.

The School House's curriculum will be very simple. Every participant will read. Every participant will write. Every mom or dad who stops by will learn effective parenting skills with a little child development thrown in for good measure. Homework will be done and kids will have fun doing it with the support of their adult friends.

Best of all, every participant will develop a love of learning from the huge variety of non-academic activities going on at the school: from building birdfeeders to launching rockets to baking cakes or growing greens, there will always be something interesting going on in the School House.

The School House will be safe, clean, and buzzing with activity. Staff and volunteers will follow best practices in risk management to ensure their own and participant safety. The house will be professionally maintained and cleaned on a regular basis so that the environment is always pleasant and welcoming.

Parents and children who take part in School House programs and resources will be supported at the level of their own cultural, educational and developmental need. They will experience stability and the luxury of learning for pleasure. The entire program, from the remodeled house with its bright and comfortable spaces to the reliability provided by long-term live-in "house parents," will contribute to frequent participation.

For youth participants, the School House will result in better school attendance, vastly improved grades, stronger interpersonal skills, higher aspiration for high school graduation and college readiness.

For adult or parent participants, the School House will offer friendship and peer support, information that helps them understand their childrens' needs, access to essential life skills training, and a place to enjoy some of the finer things in life, such as discussing a good book or cooking and sharing a garden-fresh meal. Adult participants will build more successful families, resulting in a multi-generational impact.

For community volunteers, the School House will offer rewarding opportunities to help at-risk youth prepare for lives of success. They'll forge connections to their Saint Paul neighbors who are often living on the margins. Bridges of understanding will grow among neighbors of all backgrounds and our community will grow more cohesive.

Sustainability

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Why do you think people will recognize or remember your idea after it comes to life? How might it inspire others to do something similar in their community? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The academic achievement gap is a source of great shame in our community. How could Saint Paul, a town that considers itself progressive, welcoming, and thriving, not offer equal educational opportunity to all of its children? How is it that our town allows low-income children to fail?

The achievement gap and the truths it tells us about our community's overall wellbeing constitute a civic emergency. None of us can truly thrive when a large part of our community is destined to fail. Much is being done to address the achievement gap on the part of public schools, but schools alone cannot solve what has become an entrenched personal and societal problem. We need to address it at its roots and on its doorstep. Let's build a School House: a house that brings academic and personal enrichment classes and activities right to the neighborhood.

The School House will be the most popular address in town. After all, who wouldn't enjoy being read to, learning a new skill, playing a board game, building and launching a rocket, cooking up a delicious batch of raspberry jam from the backyard patch, or meeting other young parents and mentors from the neighborhood in a sunny, safe, and accessible home?

Dozens of instructors and volunteers will be engaged in the schools, forging vital and personal connections between Saint Paul's wealthier and lower-income communities.

Once the first school is operational, the School House leadership team and partners will evaluate the program and if proving successful will develop an expansion model. The model will be shared for replication in Saint Paul and across the country. We foresee that the Saint Paul School House will become a local treasure: a source of social and civic pride for residents of Saint Paul, and a truly groundbreaking solution to today's income and race-based school performance gap.

Additonal Questions

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For your idea, what does success look like? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

We'll know that the School House has been successful when participating children post huge gains in their reading and math scores at school, attend their public schools through high school graduation, and begin their college careers. Their teachers will see and report excellent attendance records, consistent participation in class activities, enthusiasm for the subject matter, and engaged, appropriate in-school behavior.

We'll know that the School House has hit its targets when parents return again and again for classes and social time. They’ll be modeling the love of learning for their own children, building their social capital and becoming successful parents and community members.

We’ll know when we’re successful when the pilot School House has a waiting list of volunteers.

We'll know we're successful when the original School House has been replicated in several other neighborhoods, and when the model is described in a detailed business plan that's being requested by others to use in their own communities across the country.

We’ll know we’re successful when the School House program is asked to become part of a larger nonprofit or school system. Its funding will be stable and its community connections will grow in breadth.

Finally, we’ll know we’re successful when we are able to close the School House doors, because the achievement gap has disappeared and all Saint Paul families are on track for success. But you know what? We think it’s possible that the School House model might become so beloved that communities decide to hold on to their programs forever.

What are the top three things that would likely need to happen in the first year to get your idea started? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

1. Leadership In Place
Formation of a leadership team (“project team”) would come first. This team would work under the aegis of the project sponsor (lead nonprofit). The team would refine project concepts and oversee early-stage development and implementation. The project team would hire the project director. The team would approve (and possibly write) the business plan, to include a full three to five year operating budget with revenue projections, capital purchase and renovation plan, staffing structure, class list and draft schedule, marketing and outreach plans, insurance and risk management options, cash flow and financial sustainability outlook, volunteer procedures, a competitive scan, and an exit strategy.

2. Location Selected & Renovations Made
The development team—a committee of the project team— would identify a neighborhood with the required project attributes: very low-income households and higher-than-average number of resident children under age 18. A suitable property would be located and purchased. It might be a property on the market, or a city-owned foreclosed and abandoned home, or even a vacant lot. The structure, if any, would be deemed sound and predicted rehabilitation costs would fall within the set budget.

The development team would work with an architect and general contractor to complete renovations or to build a suitable structure for a new School House. If new, the structure would be designed for eventual re-use as a single family home. In all cases the house will be large enough to offer private living quarters for the live-in house parents, along with sunny and open classroom space, reading rooms, a spacious kitchen suitable for demonstration and group cooking, and art and workshop space. Ideally we'll have access to garages and basements for marvelously messy science and building projects, along with a big back yard.

Concurrent with renovations/construction the project director will be sourcing supplies and materials for the school so that it could be opened and operating shortly after renovations are complete. We already have one volunteer who has offered to purchase and refinish some of the house's furnishings from consignment stores or garage sales.

3. Staffing & Project Partners Secured
Project advisors and evaluators will be selected and will have seats at the table during early phase project development. Potential School House partners will be invited to formalize their involvement with the project, whether by signing contracts for services or by signing letters of understanding committing to a certain activity. For example, the Science Museum of Minnesota might commit to bring their mobile science van to the School House once per week for a year. The project director will recruit and select live-in house parents (which might be an actual couple, or a pair of Vista volunteers, for example) and senior instructional staff. They will create volunteer job descriptions and make connections with corporate and nonprofit volunteer resources to begin recruitment. The project director will begin establishing relationships with neighborhood organizations, businesses and institutions in the vicinity of the first Home School.

Which organizations, groups, and/or people might be involved in implementing your idea? Why do you think they would be a good fit? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

Partnerships will be essential to the success of the School House. The following organizations would be strong partners:

1. Saint Paul Public Schools
SPPS is an exemplary urban district. Still, our public school system suffers along with our community from a school-age population that too often experiences poverty, racism and discrimination, developmental delays, and adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, parental addictions, or family disintegration. Public schools are tasked with "solving" their students' myriad social and personal problems in order that effective teaching and learning can take place. That's an enormous burden to place on a generally under-resourced system and is particularly challenging for teachers, who are under pressure as never before to ensure that every student in their classroom achieves at consistently high rates.

The School House will provide several of the important elements that lead to success in a stressed student population. First, we'll offer several additional hours of academic support each day, with homework help, reading time, and tutoring. Second, we'll be able to make referrals to social workers or health professionals to ensure that every child has a chance to thrive physically, mentally and emotionally. Third, we’ll provide the essential connection to a caring adult (or adults) who will provide reliable, stable academic or mentoring support to participating children.

School House staff and volunteers will connect with their students' classroom teachers to ensure that homework is being completed and turned in.

The Saint Paul Public School’s Community Education program is an obvious and welcome potential partner. Community Ed could bring its experience, connections, risk management programs and other assets to the School House.

2. Science Museum of Minnesota
The Science Museum would be an excellent source of leadership, curricula and volunteers for the science and experimental part of the folk school's programming.

3. Wilder Foundation
The Wilder Foundation would make a great partner in two areas: first, they have a strong urban mental health program and could help with parental support and education; and second, they are exemplary program evaluators.

4. Leonardo's Basement
Leonardo's Basement could help us set up and operate some of our hands-on school-based art and science programs.

5. Frogtown Neighborhood Association (or other District Council). Frogtown would be an intriguing neighborhood to launch the pilot School House. FNA has an excellent depth of connection to neighborhood residents and concerns and would be an important partner in the community.

6. Historic Saint Paul.
Historic Saint Paul might be our partner in identifying and renovating an existing home for the school. HSP understands how to make renovations while retaining the historic features of a building.

7. University of Minnesota, University of St. Thomas
A university partner could be helpful in three areas: instruction and evaluation and volunteer recruitment. The School House program would make an amazing research case for graduate students. Professors could set up longitudinal studies following School House youth as they progress over time and measuring their success against a control group of nonparticipants. College students, especially those in the teacher-training or health sciences tracks, would make superb volunteers.

8. Civic groups, nonprofits, churches, individuals
Our robust volunteer program will rely on the existing network of volunteer recruitment agencies and programs for recruits, best practices, and other resources.

8. My own participation.
I am a successful nonprofit entrepreneur, fundraiser, project manager and executive, and because of this experience I have a lot of skills that I could bring to the project. I could be a very active participant in helping to launch the school as a volunteer, or as a staff member or consultant to the lead nonprofit.

chantalchantelle2013 chantalchantelle2013 said: A school house might be good but I think it is nice to let our children expose to the real school. - YOR Health about this Competition Entry. - 2540 days ago read more >

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