Readers Respond

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Letters to the Pilot

Neighborly schools


/ Director, Keep Iowa Beautiful

Yesterday's schools were truly "neighborhood" schools - they were a part of the community or area in which they were located. Everyone was involved in or felt they were a part of the school. The students came from the immediate area around the school.

The residents adjacent to these schools tended to be involved in the activities of the school. Most of those residents had family members or close friends in those schools. These schools tended to be the social hub for the community. The sense of ownership and partnership was strong - a true sense of community.

Today, the larger consolidated schools bus students from large areas and often long distances. The schools themselves are often located in a rural area without many neighbors. Because of this situation, the schools in the urban areas are no longer community or neighborhood schools. The neighbors may have little or no involvement or understanding of the school that is near them. Conversely the school has little reason to connect with the neighbors - hence there is a growing disconnect.

This "disconnect" has the potential to result in conflicts rather than partnerships. The conflicts occur when the students use the neighborhood area to gather in "off the school grounds activities." It's there that they smoke and many cases leave a great deal of food or other litter. It is the neighborhood that they drive through - sometimes in an inappropriate manner. This in turn is an irritant to the adjacent property owner - hence a conflict.

Generally, the group that causes the conflicts is small. It is a small group that does not reflect the rest of the student body. The problem is, however, that the small group shapes the neighborhood attitudes about the total school and school body.

How can the "schools of today" again become neighborhood schools? The fact is that they may never recapture the same feeling and attitude of the schools of earlier years. What they can do is form "partnerships" with their neighbors and work on changing attitudes through special community / neighborhood enhancement efforts.

Periodically the school can offer to help with neighborhood projects (within walking distance) like painting, clean ups, flower, shrub and tree plantings and assisting those that have difficulties with home improvements. These projects should encourage neighborhood participation to work hand-in-hand with the students. Conversely, the school can offer local residents volunteer opportunities and other ways to become involved.

This approach can start to build that sense of partnership that is needed. In some cases the sessions can also become social in nature and help to break down barriers. They can build friendships with students, staff and faculty. Nothing comes easy and it will take some effort and creative thinking.

Let's take the challenge to enhance the community by becoming good neighbors - on both sides of the equation. Reinvent the neighborhood school - just at a larger scale.

- Gerald F. Schnepf