Everyone knows how important education is for the economic prospects of a community or region. But who would have thought that low education attainment levels would lead to a scarcity of supermarkets?
Eden, a town of about 16,000 in Rockingham County, North Carolina, found this out the hard way in 2005, when one of the community’s few groceries closed and the locals got up a petition asking a supermarket chain to open a new store. They already had a site picked out and gathered around 2000 signatures. But the supermarket chain took a pass on Eden. The reason: the percentage of residents with college degrees—about 10.8 percent—was considered too low.
The activists merged with an existing community group to form the Eden Education Foundation, and later, broadening their focus, the Rockingham County Education Foundation. Working with the University of North Carolina, the group brought in two new college counselors to split their time between four county high schools advising kids who had never seen themselves as potential college grads.
In 2009, Richmond won an All-America City Award from the National Civic League for outstanding civic accomplishments. The Third Grade Reading Academy was one of the successful local programs highlighted in their application for the award.
Jointly funded by the school district now, the academy is in its fourth year, and word of its success has spread. Two communities in Canada are now using it as a model for their summer reading programs, although they are using a different name, the Reading University. “They can call it anything they want to,” says Vic Jose, one of the academy founders, “as long as they are helping third graders reach their potential.”
Here is a blog post I did on the reading academy for State of the Re:Union. And here is Jeff’s more recent video highlighting the program.
The National Civic League is adding its support to national efforts to address a persistent challenge in education: increasing the number of low-income children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade, yet two-thirds of U.S. schoolchildren are not reaching that benchmark. And children who don’t read by the end of third grade and live in poverty are six times more likely to fail to graduate from high school.
In 2012, the All-America City Awards will focus on communities that work to develop strategies for locally-owned community solutions in the three areas that have real potential to drive improvements in grade-level reading:school readiness,attendance and summer learning.
On June, 15, 2011, NCL announced its partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national coalition of funders, business and community stakeholders. The Campaign’s goal is to increase by 50 percent the number of low-income children reading on grade level in 3rd grade in at least a dozen states during the next ten years.
We are asking communities to sign aletter of an intent demonstrating their willingness to participate in the 2012 All-America City Grade Level Reading Award program.
Members of the Dedham Youth Commission have really gotten into the spirit of AAC. They did a road trip, driving 1400 miles from Massachusetts to Kansas City, stopping along the way to do community service in Pennsylvania. They just arrived at the hotel in Kansas City a few minutes ago.
We are sad to say that Dakota County won’t be attending the All-America City Awards in Kansas City because of a flooding situation back home. Our best wishes go out to the people of Dakota County. But you can read about their terrific community projects here.
Post-Secondary Educational Opportunities and Workforce Training
In Dakota County, only six percent of the population has an associate’s degree and only 13.5 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The results of this study painted a very distressing picture for Dakota County and its residents: Although Dakota County was growing economically and demographically, postsecondary educational opportunities and workforce training had failed to keep pace. The rapidly-growing minority, first-generation and place-bound working adult population needed access to higher education, but limited access and availability of affordable post-secondary educational options had created an educational shortfall. In 2005, officials from Dakota County, South Sioux City, Wayne State College and Northeast Community College along with local businesses, and over 130 donors united together to overcome the counties post-secondary educational shortfalls and launched a campaign to build a new College Center that would offer “start-to-finish” degree programs including two-year, four-year, and graduate degrees, as well as customized workforce training programs. On March 14, 2011, the College Center, located in South Sioux City, Nebraska opened its doors to students, faculty and the public.
Roth Industrial Park
The “Roth Industrial Park” located in Dakota County, Nebraska has defied the global economic recession by emerging as one of the fastest growing industrial parks in the nation. After successfully securing the ground, community leaders ensured the site was “shovel-ready” by completing all road, rail, water, fiber, gas and electricity infrastructures. With these networks in place, community/county economic development officials began to aggressively market and promote the Roth Industrial Park. Five short years later, the Park has announced over $700 million in capital investment and the creation of 850 jobs in this agri-business and food processing hub of the Midwest. As the Roth Industrial Park adds businesses and capital investment, community and county leaders are working together to find additional acres to meet the growing demands for land in this rapidly expanding industrial park. As a result of their calculated efforts, this development is helping lead the region’s economic recovery.
The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA
In 2005, the YMCA that served the region was in significant decline and was struggling to raise funds to build a new facility. Through innovative public/private, business and not-for-profit partnerships across multi-jurisdictional boundaries, a state-of-the-art $11 million facility was built and, in January 2008, The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA opened its doors to the public. A school district that faced the closure of the pool used for all of its aquatic programs now has use of a top-of-the-line competitive pool and additional fitness resources previously unavailable for its kids. A county striving to provide more recreation and well-being for its residents now partners with the Y for wellness programming for its staff and families, management of a summer outdoor pool for the entire community, and operation of a 72-acre outdoor complex that provides outdoor recreation opportunities for thousands of youth. This youth driven project has resulted in greater health and activity opportunities for the entire community, especially impacting underserved youth through summer camps, day camps, youth fitness programs, youth sports, and facilities and programming specifically designed for youth and families.
The Observer, a student newspaper for Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College ponders the question of how South Bend, Indiana could appear on Newsweek’s recent list of dying cities in the light of the fact that it was an All-America City Award finalist in 2009. (Read the Observer article here.)
Well, one possible answer is that these lists are often misleading. South Bend was apparently flagged because of its loss of population and manufacturing jobs, but the city has a lot of strengths, not the least of which is its relationship to Notre Dame and other nearby colleges and universities.
Another point, which comes up again and again, is that the All-America City Award is not a beauty contest. We ask applicants to list their strengths and weaknesses and list three successful of projects to address their most pressing challenges.
South Bend happened to have some terrific projects. The city’s neighborhood revitalization partnership with the local universities and hospitals was impressive, as was its government innovation task force. Thanks to local anti-childhood obesity efforts, South Bend was selected one of the three cities to pilot the national We Can! campaign in 2007.
After the All-America City Award conference in June 2010 in Kansas City, Southwest Airlines (the official airline of the All-America City Award) offered finalist communities a free day of technical assistance from the National Civic League’s Community Services program. Some of the finalists jumped at the opportunity.
Dublin, California used its day last week to bring the city staff and city council members to a forum with the local school district to explore ways in which they could work more effectively together. In light of the tough economic times facing local government and school districts, such a discussion made sense.
The city and the district realized that they could not continue to work separately and expect to thrive. For instance, putting forth ballot initiatives at the same time would likely mean defeat for both given the public’s angst toward higher taxes in today’s economy. In addition, they needed each other: the city’s future economic development opportunities depended on strong schools. The schools needed a safe and healthy community, a strong infrastructure, and effective governance in order to thrive.
Such a convening had only been done twice before: in 1985 and in 1998. While hopeful, both sides were a little apprehensive and uncertain about how the discussion would go. The apprehension turned out to be unfounded. Dubliners showed their All-America City spirit by focusing their energy on the possibilities rather than the potential pitfalls.
The discussion revealed the past, present and future that the city and school district both shared. The discussion identified four key areas where the city and district could collaborate: 1) a planning process to further develop the shared opportunities they would focus on; 2) shared revenue measures; 3) shared facilities; and 4) joint community outreach and engagement.
The energy and enthusiasm at the conclusion of the meeting were infectious, and a preliminary process was established and subsequent meetings were scheduled. Thanks to the support of Southwest Airlines, the city of Dublin was able to use NCL’s services to have a safe, productive meeting on one of the most important issues the community has faced.
Greeley West High School students and staff members held their second annual EthnicFest this week.
The student-led initiative featured a week of cultural learning experiences students, staff and the community as a whole. The goal was to highlight various cultures in the community to promote understanding and unity.
Daytime events for West students included a UNC cheerleader who overcame homelessness; a cultural panel of students representing the many Hispanic, Burmese, African and Caucasian cultures that co-mingle at the school; Native American musicians who perform with an array of authentic and unique instruments; a literal globe-trekker; and a final half-day learning experience with a wide variety of sights, sounds and tastes from across the planet.
“We made sure to reach out and include as many different viewpoints as we can,” said senior Sabrina Harms, who was a key assistant for last year’s inaugural EthnicFest. “Our intent is to leave no one out.”
In honor of Gaston County’s upcoming community celebration, we made this short video about Gastonia’s All-America City Award-winning projects.
A city of about 74,000 in the Charlotte region, Gastonia, like other southern mill towns, has been hit hard by the double whammy of a loss of textile jobs and the 2008 recession. The unemployment is around 13 percent and the high school drop out rate is one of the highest in the region. The economy woes have also slammed some of the city’s older neighborhoods as lower income homeowners struggle to keep their properties repaired.
Hope for Gaston
In 2006 the city joined with a faith-based program, Hope4Gaston, to make home repairs for low income residents of the mostly African-American Highlands section. A community development block grant was used to pay for construction materials, and teams of 20-40 volunteers were assigned to various homes to do repairs under the supervision of licensed contractors. Repairs valued at $348,000 were made in two days to 50 homes. Very good leveraging of the $27,000 grant.
Highland Health Center
In 2007, the Gaston County Health Department conducted a door-to-door survey of local health care needs. With help from the city, eight teams fanned out across the Highland neighborhood to interview residents. They found that about one fifth of them had no health insurance. A business plan for a new Highlands Health Center was developed to address the community’s health needs, ranging from teen pregnancy to heart disease and diabetes. The health center opened July.
Run for the Money
The community stages an annual run to raise money for local nonprofits. It began in 2003, a time when local nonprofits were struggling. After sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support relief efforts in New York after 9/11, Gaston County residents were tapped out. A stagnant economy didn’t help matters.
All told the annual event has raised about $7.8 million for local nonprofits in seven years. The run has become a community event involving hundreds of families. “There is no other fundraiser we could do that could raise this kind of money for us,” notes Cathy Howell, director of Crisis Assistance Ministry.
Lowering the Drop Out rate
Established by Mayor Jennie Stultz and the city council, the Mayor’s Youth Council became concerned with the dropout rate. In 2008, they surveyed 9th and 10th graders to find out about the various causes of dropping out of school. One of the major reasons, they discovered, was anxiety over a mandated senior graduation project. This year, the youth group invited role models to speak on the importance of staying in school, including former MVP NBA start James Worthy, a native Gastonian.
Gaston Career Climb
Three county foundations came together to support Gaston Career Climb, a program to improve the skill levels of the local workforce. Computer-based assessments of students and adults were used to determine skill levels. The program prepares students and adults to be tested for “Career Readiness Certificates.” Over 50 area businesses now recognize these certificates and use them in their hiring practices.