Bilingual Learning Circles in Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood

by Derek Johnson | Mar 20, 2012
| 9 Comments

Summary:

The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis has a large immigrant population (predominantly East African) as well as established non-immigrant populations and 3 higher education institutions, Augsburg, the U of MN, and St. Catherine's. The idea of starting a Jane Addams School here is to develop more ways for diverse people (different languages, cultures, and religions) to get to know each other, teach and learn from each other, and make the neighborhood a better place.

This concept draws from practices of the Jane Addams School on the West Side of St. Paul. We would like to have ongoing learning circles that meet two nights a week at a public space. There will be circles for adults and children. I will describe adult circles first with the goal of 1-2 adult circles to start. In an adult circle on a typical night, a group of 15-30 people will sit in a circle and engage in a dialogue for half of the time. The group will pick its own topics, likely to include community-building themes like food and family but also issues that people want to impact, such as safety , health care, and education issues for youth. The dialogues will be interpreted between two languages so that everyone can engage. People may agree and want to work together on an issue, but it is okay not to agree. The important thing is that people get to know each other and regularly communicate with each other. During the other half of the night, immigrant and non-immigrant community members will work in pairs guided by the simple idea that we are all teachers and learners. Many immigrant adults will practice English, study for the citizenship exam, or learn basic computer skills. However, they will also teach their partner about their language and culture. The combination of group and pair time is essential. The youth circle is a space for young people to interact with young adult role models from the neighborhood, get homework help, and get involved in activities they are interested in.

About You

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About You

First Name

Derek

Last Name

Johnson

Country

United States, MN

City

Minneapolis

Innovation

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Title

Cedar-Riverside Jane Addams School for Democracy

What is your best idea to build bonds and work together across cultures and faiths in your community?

The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis has a large immigrant population (predominantly East African) as well as established non-immigrant populations and 3 higher education institutions, Augsburg, the U of MN, and St. Catherine's. The idea of starting a Jane Addams School here is to develop more ways for diverse people (different languages, cultures, and religions) to get to know each other, teach and learn from each other, and make the neighborhood a better place.
This concept draws from practices of the Jane Addams School on the West Side of St. Paul. We would like to have ongoing learning circles that meet two nights a week at a public space. There will be circles for adults and children. I will describe adult circles first with the goal of 1-2 adult circles to start. In an adult circle on a typical night, a group of 15-30 people will sit in a circle and engage in a dialogue for half of the time. The group will pick its own topics, likely to include community-building themes like food and family but also issues that people want to impact, such as safety , health care, and education issues for youth. The dialogues will be interpreted between two languages so that everyone can engage. People may agree and want to work together on an issue, but it is okay not to agree. The important thing is that people get to know each other and regularly communicate with each other. During the other half of the night, immigrant and non-immigrant community members will work in pairs guided by the simple idea that we are all teachers and learners. Many immigrant adults will practice English, study for the citizenship exam, or learn basic computer skills. However, they will also teach their partner about their language and culture. The combination of group and pair time is essential. The youth circle is a space for young people to interact with young adult role models from the neighborhood, get homework help, and get involved in activities they are interested in.

Impact and Sustainability

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How will your idea have a positive impact on your community?

At a community level, our hope is that ongoing learning circles will substantially change Cedar-Riverside dynamics. Diverse immigrants and other community members will grow accustomed to interacting and conversing with people who are different than them. A key component of the idea is that people interact as human beings, as neighbors, not in scripted roles like service recipient and professional. This is fundamental to a democracy-all kinds of people need to know each other as people to be able to work together on common issues. As people build public relationships, trust grows. People will be able to proactively work to improve the neighborhood, and they will be able to collectively respond in productive ways to whatever might happen in the community. Instead of apprehension and fear, trust will guide interactions and neighborhood work. This is something that can be sensed throughout the neighborhood in place like street corners and parks.

It is important to discuss ways that learning circles impact individuals. Perhaps most importantly, young people will grow up in an environment where all kinds of people interact and work together for the good of the community. For many immigrant adults, a nurturing space will be sustained to build relationships with native English speakers. Elders will develop relationships with others even when they share no common language. These relationships help everyone to feel that they truly belong, which is central to individual and community health and well-being. College students and non-immigrant community members will learn the skills necessary to communicate across language. These skills are vital in our multicultural society and transfer to all sorts of environments. In addition, all learning circle participants will learn how to impact issues that they care about. They will learn basic building blocks of democracy based on the idea that all people, not just elected officials, must work to make changes in our communities.

What do you think the lasting effect will be if your idea is implemented?

Many people in Cedar-Riverside are excited about the idea of ongoing learning circles in the neighborhood. Dozens of college students who live in the neighborhood have been involved in the Jane Addams School in St. Paul and feel strongly that this idea will be powerful and effective in Cedar-Riverside. Conversations have been going on in the neighborhood about Jane Addams School learning circles, and some neighborhood leaders and institutions are intruiged by the idea. A potential location for learning circles, the former St. Martin's Table space on Riverside Avenue, has been proposed. I believe that some initial funding to move forward with the idea will serve as a tipping point. It will move us past planning and conversation and into implementation. Once Jane Addams School learning circles are established, I believe that neighborhood partners will find ways to sustain them over time. Learning circles are not expensive to sustain once they are established and people work through whatever logistic and other complications that may arise in the first few months of a new initiative.

Another way to think about lasting effect is to consider the potential for replicating a learning circle model. The Jane Addams School for Democracy has had much success for 15 years in St. Paul, but there has yet to be a sustained effort to replicate the Jane Addams model in another context. Starting Cedar-Riverside learning circles will teach us how to assist others interested in replicating learning circles in diverse neighborhoods and communities. We will document the process and lessons learned from initiating Cedar-Riverside learning circles, and this will enable us to help others in replicating a Jane Addams learning circle model. In summary, initiating learning circles and eventually helping others to replicate the model will help more people and communities to communicate and work effectively across differences in language, culture, and faith.

hayworth structure said: Youre a good mentor and your students are all grateful because you are their teacher and they are your friends too. - James D. Sterling about this Competition Entry. - 1926 days ago read more >
Natalie Jones said: I am currently a learning circle participant in St. Paul, and this is a great way to engage members of the community so that they can ... about this Competition Entry. - 2644 days ago read more >
Kong Mong Her said: Great idea and great work on this!!! about this Competition Entry. - 2644 days ago read more >

Derek Johnson updated this Competition Entry. - 2659 days ago

Derek Johnson updated this Competition Entry. - 2660 days ago

sam parker said: The Jane Addams School is a great model for other programs. The current schol in St. Paul brings people of different ... about this Competition Entry. - 2661 days ago read more >
Sukanya Momsen said: This is a great opportunity to engage the University of Minnesota students, Augsburg students, and the rest of the Cedar-Riverside ... about this Competition Entry. - 2661 days ago read more >
Nan Kari said: Jane Addams would be pleased. about this Competition Entry. - 2661 days ago read more >
Apolonia Fay said: Great idea, love the cultural exchange @ the circles. about this Competition Entry. - 2661 days ago read more >
Jim Lewis said: Great idea and one that I know works! about this Competition Entry. - 2661 days ago read more >