Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Learning in the community

Learning in the Community

Kids learn in different ways and demonstrate learning in different ways.  With this in mind it becomes essential to tie learning to experiences familiar to the students.  Currently we are chasing our tails trying to fit all kids into a tiny standardized box full of word games and math riddles.  This is no longer desirable as it has proven to have failed time and time again.  To make learning real, it must begin at the front door of the school and move outward to wherever it takes us.  This can be done in reality as well as virtual.  Here I will focus on the real aspect of taking kids into the community as well as bringing community members into the school.  We began at our Milwaukee Village School (a Milwaukee Public School 1995 - 1998) by mapping the neighborhood, diagramming streets as well as identifying businesses in the area.  Most amazing is the number of businesses in the immediate vicinity that are willing to support schools with their thoughts and actions, and they are often within walking distance of the school. 
We begin with the selection of business partners, no longer those chosen for their financial contributions to schools, but those who can contribute based on the needs of kids to learn and thrive in their community.    
The need to develop good reading skills in all students is of great concern to every school.  To this end we look to the neighborhood for a local bookstore as a partner.  Carla Allison and her Readers Choice bookstore became a phenomenal partner to the Milwaukee Village School.  Not only were kids introduced to books by visiting her store, many projects were developed through Carla’s participation at the school.  Students were introduced to entrepreneurship and taught how to develop a business and  they developed a book club, getting a grant to purchase books from the store to support student reading at every level.  Think of the possibilities for other creative activities.
One of the most exciting partnerships was our relationship with farmer Will Allen.  We introduced Will to our kids and it was the beginning of a great educational relationship.  Interested students learned in Will’s greenhouse by growing food, nurturing it and passing it on to those in the community.  This whole concept began with our effort to beautify the neighborhood.  I will never forget the student who was in charge of beautifying the day care she was assigned to.  When phone calls came from local officials or community members about that project, the calls went to her, not to a staff member.  Students were put in the lead. From this beginning, Will developed “Growing Power” Inc.  and become an international authority educating people on the value of good nutrition and quality food.  And our students blossomed, not through taking a test but by real learning.
Think of other possibilities creative partnerships would create.  Our relationship with the Black Health Coalition led to our students planning and fully developing an anti smoking campaign including running a conference.  Our partnership with MATA media, the local public access television station, had students doing a great English lesson around a public service announcement that went on the air.  The AODA, a program to get kids away from alcohol and drugs had our kids boarding a bus in Milwaukee to go to Boston to see the whales, a trip that the students chose.    And the bus company was also our partner.  Because they were from the neighborhood, they could direct us to new small businesses in the neighborhood that could support our efforts.
The Village school was short lived however, the ideas go on forever.  How many ideas do you have to make learning real? 
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Cap Lee


  1. We've used business partners when I taught older grades, however the tough economic times put an end to traveling. The only school I taught at with walking access to places was the inner city school I was at. I loved being able to walk with the children to visit and converse with people in our community. One great thing about technology is the smartboard. That has changed the whole dynamic of my classroom and allowed us to "virtually" go anywhere, not to mention skyping with authors of some literature we read. Amazing possibilities!

  2. Virtual community experiences also lead to teachable moments. It's a great way to connect students to the community. In my budget, I put top priority on transportation as it was an integral part of the learning experience. Every academic area could be integrated into those community experiences to make learning real.