Mapping Resources

Connecting Communities Across Boston

MAPPING RESOURCES: CONNECTING COMMUNITIES ACROSS BOSTON

Written by:
Garima Sood, Brookline High '08, AFH Alumni / Assistant Mentor
Quyen Truong, Conard High '01, AFH Education Director
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"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."  -Goethe


1) Statement of Need
The success of Boston Public Schools requires complementary after-school and summer programming offer low-income, at-risk students opportunities to engage with multiple intelligences and a diverse support network via extracurricular activities. In her Acceleration Agenda, Superintendent Johnson conveys concern about unmet budget shortfalls; she recommends fortifying BPS partnerships with established CBOs throughout the city. Unfortunately, our educational and support units tend to work in isolation. While the current DSS interventions can resolve short-term issues, the majority of students lack necessary support to succeed. While well-resourced suburban districts like Brookline and Concord sustain graduation and college enrollments rates up to 92%, as few as 30% of Boston students graduate on time and enroll in four-year colleges.

Unlike their suburban counterparts, Boston youth have a more difficult time accessing opportunities that provide relevant experiences to supplement their public school education. Students frequently complain about their curriculum’s narrow focus on raising assessment scores. A recent graduate of a Boston Public School believes that a high school education “helps you graduate, but doesn’t help you find a future.” Fortunately, led by a fellow peer, his affiliation with a local CBO, Artists for Humanity’s arts enterprise program, allows him to envision a future as an architect.

Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are integral to our educational structure. The lack of coordination between districts and CBOs plays a huge role in this daunting disparity. To meet the budget shortfall and the education gap that our urban youth will face in the next few years, we must create an effective plan to coordinate resources between CBOs and BPS.

While CBOs can focus on creating alternative learning environments and offer a low mentor-to-youth ratio, most public schools face over-enrollment and overwhelming pressures to educate an increasingly diverse population of students. This situation in schools can leave many students feeling lost in the crowd. Many students to resort to inadequate internet guides and word-of-mouth information to supplement their knowledge of available community resources. However, most youth continue to be unaware of relevant support options. One tenth-grade student at a local public school sought help after surviving physical-abuse, only to find that the school lacked provisions for extra educational support, let alone psychiatric help. She was expected to resume her daily activities at school. The CBOs exist to serve as resources for youth, but require consistent, systemic coordination with the Boston Public Schools to connect with at-risk youth. We cannot allow the continued suffering of our youth when such a plethora of resources abound.

Many BPS students, especially those from low-income families, grow up in dangerous neighborhoods that limit their experiences and force them to adhere to confining patterns specific to their communities. According to a Charlestown high school student, adolescents raised in exhausted families crave an “escape from their everyday life that brings them down.” Additionally, community risk factors such as drugs and violence negatively impact the growth of adolescents. Victims of these adverse circumstances become desensitized and learn to cope, living to survive rather than feeling empowered to change our community problems. These youth lack the opportunity to uplift themselves, and would benefit from exposure to people of diverse backgrounds. 

Conversely, students from privileged backgrounds who develop in homogeneous communities lack the exposure to different perspectives that would allow them to learn empathy and understand how we all impact each other’s lives. To develop and grow productively, all students must interact with multiple communities to broaden their perspectives. CBOs offer a space for students from different communities to mingle and connect, and enable the amalgamation of experiences to fortify our community. The disconnected functioning of CBO and BPS units perpetuates cultural isolation. We must facilitate interaction between youths from different socioeconomic and cultural groups.

2) Proposed Innovation
The Boston Public Schools is facing a budget shortfall. Over 400 teaching positions are being cut. Meanwhile, community based organizations (CBOs) like Artists for Humanity and certain schools (like Brookline High) have a plethora of resources to offer, and few ways of connecting these resources with youth who need them. The question remains: how do we create ways to empower folks who need resources to access them? How do we share what we have with others in a meaningful, sustainable way? For example, if school A has health care services, but lacks after school programs, and school B has space for after school programs, but wants health care, and CBO C has a model for a after school program, but needs space, how do we share this information so that A+B+C=fulfilled and engaged youth?

Lets map all our resources so that we know what we can offer each other. Lets also identify resources based on location. To do this, we should develop a database that identifies all the local schools and CBOs interested in sharing resources. The database contains columns showing available resources within a matrix, exhibiting categories such as health care, after school programming, and parent support services. This resource database can be linked to an on-line map, where educators can search by location to consider ways to connect with local programs.

3) First Steps & Resources Required

PLANNING

1- We must first research the accomplishments within the BPS system in terms of gathering information for the district databases. Towards this end, we would like to convene with the other folks working on mapping resources via the Boston Innovation Incubator and at BPS Deltas. We want to identify and approach public and private sector partners to help us in this work. These folks, in collaboration with interested educators, will comprise a small planning committee. Together, we will outline the type of information we want to collect to compare across organizations. We will consider triumphs and frustrations with current mapping efforts, and develop strategies for gathering data. Most importantly, we will outline a concrete, low-cost action plan for the first 6 months.

We propose the Artists For Humanity Epicenter as a meeting site since it is close to the subway, since we can connect with youth from all different neighborhoods in the after-school and summer hours, and since there is daily space availability and Internet access from 9am-3pm.

We also want to research what other cities have achieved in terms of sharing resources and creating databases with accessible information. The following existing resources should be considered towards our preliminary planning:

*Texas's mapping model (contains useful templates for training, data-collection, and action steps to consider towards the development of resource mapping; much of our current proposal is derived from this established work): http://www.twc.state.tx.us/svcs/youthinit/materials/mapping1203.pdf

Minneapolis search engine at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA): http://www.cura.umn.edu/CuraProjects.php

Chicago Program Locater: http://www.afterschoolmatters.org/programs/locations/

Ohio Mapping CBO proposal: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/summit_co_ohio.pdf

Based on the results of our preliminary research, we can create plans to create a strong foundation for this mapping educational resources project.


DATA COLLECTION
Towards creating a sustainable foundation to map educational resources, we want to explore ways to create an easy system to populate data in our proposed database. We envision a matrix database, but want to consider the format that will best inform our educators. Based on our available resources and need, rather than using interviews to gather data, we think it will be more efficient and economical to create a survey as a tool to collect organizational profiles and email to resource prospects. We would like to plan an event (much like Boston Innovation Incubator) at the Artists For Humanity Epicenter to kick off the initiative.

We are particularly interested in the idea of embedding a Google Map in a website, where we can visually show educators the availability of local resources. One way to do this work is to use the Google Maps API to populate the map with points from our database (http://code.google.com/apis/maps/). More research needs to be complete to explore this possibility. We would like to approach Google Boston with this idea to see whether they can share resources to aid us in this mapping project. We've identified a few people at Google who can serve as sounding boards for this idea, and aim to present the idea to the company to see whether there are possibilities for partnership. As a company devoted to sharing relevant information to users, and a company that espouses an interest in meaningful community involvement, Google seems especially well-suited for this work.

Once we've identified partners in our work, we will organize trainings for information gatherers.

 
ANALYSIS & SHARING
After 3 months of initial data-collection, we will convene interested folks at another event to review the data. A small team will prepare the presentation, outlining findings: major discoveries, resource
strengths, connections, gaps and implications.

We must present the findings, especially for the schools and organizations who participated in creating this database. The Boston Foundation has created strong programming for folks, and would be an appropriate venue to consider to share this vital information. For the presentation, we will plan plenty of time for questions, suggestions, and networking.

After the event, we will reconsider potential areas that will require deeper mapping. Seeing the broad range of resources across organizations will help identify possible connections, but we might need more information in certain areas to consider how to better to connect.

UPDATES
We will also continue efforts to sustain and update the database, and convene folks on an annual basis to review relevant information to inform future mapping efforts. To provide partners with regular updates on our progress, we will establish an yearly schedule to update mapping information. Since we will share the information on an on-line database, people can update as needed, but we will also solicit updates on an annual basis. Finally, we will create an evaluation to gain feedback on the process. We want to determine whether our methods and tools help educators ascertain the availability of local resources and consider how we might work with other like-minded organizations. Based on feedback, we will continue to make adjustments.

4) Impact
If we can encourage educators in schools and out of schools to pool available resources, whether they be space, staff, supplies, or youth, we can better educate our youth in the upcoming years.

Boston Public Schools' internal and external coordination, especially in regards to systemically incorporating the work of CBOs around the city, will encourage an amalgamation of resources from communities spanning different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, to create an effective educational system. High-performance schools can share resources to help struggling schools. Sharing resources will enable cross-cultural communication. The homogeneous culture nurtured in wealthy schools will be enriched by diverse viewpoints of inner-city students, especially via the medium of after-school programs. CBO resources and programs can establish positive environments to foster Boston youth development in multicultural environments. One day, socioeconomic and racial identity will not determine levels of success of the Boston youth. Rather, all Boston youth will have opportunities to express and tap from their diverse backgrounds to inform our larger society.

CBO resources, such as creative space, health care, and out-of-school programming, will provide our youth with a wider range of productive platforms to promote community education. Partnership between suburban and urban districts can foster the equalization of resources to ensure opportunities for all Massachusetts students to graduate high school in time and enroll in four year colleges and universities. This will raise Massachusetts’ current national educational status and more importantly develop citizens empowered to tackle the demands of the new technological age.

Taking full advantage of CBO resources can provide BPS students with experiential education opportunities to guide students’ academic interests towards potential career paths. Through appropriate CBO affiliations, Boston youth will gain relevant experiences to enroll and excel in certification programs and vocational trainings. On the other side of the spectrum, the creative and artistically inclined can explore options that are otherwise neglected by the traditional school curriculum. Finally, CBOs offer students of all levels meaningful opportunities to rise up to their potential, tap into multiple intelligences, and develop invaluable skills beyond book learning.

Sharing relevant resources will provide educators with the motivation to challenge average student performance trends.  Expecting a higher level of productive output will instill good work ethic and a sense of self-reliance within the youth to better prepare them for the competition in the job market. Consequently, future generations will be less dependent on welfare and unemployment support, leading to district and nationwide success. The entirety of Boston will be able to reach beyond mediocrity and aspire for excellence.

“We can afford to do what needs to be done. What’s missing is not money, but a national sense of urgency.”- Barack Obama