By Erika Bembry, Guest Contributor
I’ve heard the phrase going “all out” on numerous occasions. In fact, I have used it a time or two as a means of expressing, usually in an exaggerated way, the extent to which I have completed a task with or for the benefit of others. In the case of the article, How One College Went “All In” in Its Neighborhood, by Scott Carlson, this cliche was taken to a whole new level.
At first glance, I thought that this would be a typical article about college kids in a particular community donating their time to help out a nearby elementary school or high school to increase their volunteer hours and beef up their resume. However, I was surprised when I learned just how much one college, Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, did to give back to the community.
Similar to most cities throughout the nation, Portland has areas that are robust and thriving as well as areas that are not, for a wide range of reasons. Concordia University, a private liberal arts institution, happens to be located near an underserved urban elementary and middle school on the north side of Portland, where once thriving factories and other industrial sites now lay defunct and schools sit festering in rundown bricks and mortar. Still, a professor from the university reached out to the principal of the school to offer support by bringing a bit of sunshine to the facility through an arts program. Now, this was just a band-aid on the situation. After all, the reality was that the school was struggling and likely needed a lot more than paper and crayons to remedy its challenges. Nevertheless, this was certainly a step in the right direction.
That’s a bit of the backstory. Fast-forward to what really grabbed my attention in the article: Gary Withers, president of the Concordia University Foundation, saw an opportunity to get the attention of donors and seized the moment to do just that. Withers had the bright idea, inspired by the vision of a colleague, to literally bring the university into the school. Thus, students could potentially attend college within the same building where they attended elementary or middle school. Pretty cool concept indeed, right?
The concept: Create a new “state-of-the-art” school right next door. How awesome is that! A school in a low income, marginalized, underserved community that will now be the envy of the city. School leaders even came up with a catchy slogan, “3-D to PhD.” Impressed yet? It’s arguably one of the most unique ideas I’ve ever heard of. Donors must have been equally impressed because two main partners managed to come up with $48 million for this project.
With this, community partners demolished the old school buildings and built in its place a brand new 138,000-square-foot facility loaded with every imaginable accommodation anyone could hope for. Inside this new building, students and parents have direct access to a community kitchen, medical and dental care, access to a supermarket and even cooking classes for families who wish to attend. The new school that was erected is called Faubion and its mission is to serve those children from the lowest income. The school is only two years old and already over-enrolled.
The real question is will this work? In the long run, will it be a sustainable partnership? Will the children and families for whom this school was created actually reap the benefits of the school? I don’t believe that this initiative will yield the level of success that may be wanted. Don’t get me wrong; I think it is a noble effort. However, all too often, particularly where black and brown people are concerned, large amounts of money (which are definitely necessary when taking on a project of this magnitude) are thrown at a problem without adequate thought being put into the effort.
In this case, as I read and reread this article, I noticed that there was never any mention from the school or the university on how these marginalized children and their families would be educated within this new model. In fact, I had more questions at the end of this article than I did when I began reading it. Will this school deal with the issue of cultural relevance and engagement within the classroom? Will it employ teachers who know how to implement trauma-informed instruction? Will there be a diverse staff, as well as leadership/administration members? What use is it for a facility to have all of the bells and whistles anyone could ever wish for, when, within its very walls, are children who are not learning or making the progress that they should?
Hopefully my reservations will not become reality, for the children’s sake.