A Radical Approach to Community


If anyone were to put on their business card, “Enabler of Radical Alliances”, it might be interesting to see how many job offers and fond associations it would elicit.This is not as “out there” at all, especially if you are interested in social change. Radical looks like the word “radish” for a reason. It comes from the same derivation that means, “root”. A radical for that reason wants to bore down into the soil strata that produce all that foliage on top. If you are a radical, you want to get at root causes. You work for change, but it is not ornamental change. It is change that gets at root causes – perhaps because you are as convinced as I am that systems need to change and not merely programs.I believe that Springfield Promise Neighborhood is a radical organization – or at least we aspire to be. The more radical the better and the more we might get people to be radical with us, the better we will be. OK one story so you don’t suspect that this is going to devolve in some kind of socialist, commie theory.Promise has this radical idea that if students coming from poverty are to have a chance at succeeding then they better know how to read. It is a quite radical shocker I know, but it gets worse the deeper the spade gets into soil. First a critical mass of the students we love in Promise are behind in literacy skills and second they were already behind by the time they reached Kindergarten. Generally that gap gets worse as they move though schools in urban environments, and it gets particularly worse over the summer. By the time many of our students finish elementary school, they are multiple grade levels behind in reading as compared to their more affluent peers, an achievement gap particularly grievous and persistent for children of color.Now here is a sometime splendid and radical notion. When people practice a skill more often, they get better at it. Children need more practice and they need it in loving supportive ways from people they care about. They in a word need extended learning opportunities “after school” and in June, July, and August in “summer school” or in other words just when teachers are so exhausted and children are so pooped that you could not haul them back to school if you called the Donald Trump “ice cream” academy.So bottom line, the system and cultural expectation of school has to be extended. You have to find an undepleted teaching source; you have to build a curriculum of engagement that doesn’t just pile more school on (the moron approach), and you have not call to call it “summer school” or “after school” because those very terms suggest a cosmetic “add on” that is not part of the normal way school is done. You need radical change.Our radical response: many children at Promise go to school from 8am to 6pm each day and an additional 18 days in the summer. Their huggability index goes way up as they have adventures with caring adults, they work towards personalized goals, and they gain more than a year’s worth of academic and social growth so they can catch up.Meanwhile we work toward a systems change approach with the school system and with the parents and with community partners so this is all sustainable and looks like school especially for the schools making a difference in the most challenged environments. And we have a plan for that but that would take a lot more writing to explain and many more hors d'oeuvres for the fellow travelers of this social change business.By Dr. Robert WelkerTo learn more about Bob’s work please visit www.springfieldpromise.com