By Latosha Rowley, Guest Contributor
What does it mean to be a “rich” school in a “rich” community? Society’s focus on money and capitalism have caused people to think that a plethora of dollars for societal comforts makes a school and community rich.
Sure, the rich school districts enjoy societal comforts because of financial contributions from wealthy PTA members, along with access to opportunities because of a strong, financial tax base that generates funding to meet, and even exceed, the needs and desires of students and families in that school district. However, money does not guarantee solutions to all urban school problems. Money does help reduce the ills of the historical, systemic racist practices found in school districts and communities today.
As a former urban school leader, I served as an advocate in the fight for equity-based changes in my school and community. My urban reform efforts included connections to local churches and community centers to provide resources that were far more valuable than dollars. I worked collaboratively with other urban, school leaders to leverage “rich” assets, strengths, and agency of the local community partners, neighborhood organizations, and the business community to ensure access to intangible social interactions that led to positive school changes for our urban students and families.
Due to inequitable and unjust public schooling, certain school districts have monetary advantages, whereas other school districts are severely underfunded with a lack of resources and access to wealthy PTAs or financially stable tax bases. Therefore, these urban districts and schools have been labeled poor. As an urban school leader, I faced endless societal challenges such as poverty and homelessness in my urban school, but my school was not poor. Without access to monetary funds, I tapped into community resources, such as tutoring and mentoring with community members at the local church, to help me meet the educational and social needs of my urban students and families. As a critical scholar, it is imperative that mindsets shift to see the richness in all schools and communities.
My urban school benefited from rich, intangible community assets that far exceeded monetary value. The relationships with community organizations provided social and emotional support for my students. The social and cultural richness strengthen my school. In “School as Community, Community as School” by Terrance Green, his theoretical framework, social capital, examined the intersection of urban school reform and community development. Structural changes and redistribution of resources are needed to strengthen schools and communities in urban spaces. Building on the strengths of a community and valuing the cultural and social networks will improve the school and community’s conditions. Social networks are a form of currency that connects and links resources that improve schools and communities. Effective school leadership values the gifts, talents, connections, relationships, and cultural diversity of the people in the urban community as critical for urban school reform.
When school and community leaders connect, collaborate, and create bridges for the social and cultural capital of the people, the urban spaces become richer with shared assets, power, and privilege that enhances community engagement. School-community relationships need people who honestly communicate with each other, respectfully value each other with love and care, take collective actions together, and share each other’s gifts and talents to ensure positive student development for school and life.
True interconnected partnerships between urban schools and community businesses and universities will establish an exchange model that shares resources. Under-resourced and underserved urban spaces build community capacity through relationships that engage all community stakeholders who support a mission to build stronger families and healthier communities. With the intentional school and community vision of equity and justice, student learning and growth will increase, and society will be able to see community benefits beyond a standardized test score. People in urban communities, including the children, will embrace the richness of people’s gifts and talents. Students and families will have community experiences beyond the classroom walls. Students will be exposed to the individual assets of community members in areas of music, technology, the arts, and social clubs that create thriving, wealthy and rich urban communities.
Latosha Rowley is a Doctoral student in the Urban Education Studies program at IU School of Education at IUPUI.