Binghamton Community Schools coordinator on board
The Division of Student Affairs was in search of a community-based initiative to which it could commit long term and around which it could focus community engagement and service learning efforts. “Our criteria were to identify an initiative where we might “move the needle” on something of clear importance to the greater Binghamton community,” said Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs. “We spent a year in conversation with our community, looking for an initiative that would provide a broad enough context so that multiple academic programs and disciplines could contribute expertise and service-learning opportunities for students – and one that could capture the imagination of University and community partners.
“The community schools is where we landed and the early interest of faculty and students, and the excitement in the community suggest we chose well,” he said.
As part of the community schools initiative, Binghamton University hired Pam Misener as a community schools coordinator to help develop the projects, involving a lot of students, as well as faculty and staff, to help make a big difference in the local community. Two other factors were considered as well, said Elizabeth Carter, assistant vice president for student development: To support and continue the work that the College of Community and Public Affairs had started with its SHARE grant after the grant ended, and to take advantage of New York state’s designation as a Promise Zone.
“Our Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) is doing a lot of wonderful things and taking care of day-to-day volunteer opportunities,” said Carter. “And CCPA did a wonderful job with the SHARE grant, working with the schools. It was such great work that we hated to see it end when the grant ended, so Brian (Rose) and Laura (Bronstein) collaborated on how to continue the progress.”
The local Promise Zone is unique in the state, said Carter. Most state-designated Promise Zones center on one school district. “When it was designated here, it became a county-wide Promise Zone and the money is filtered from the state to the Broome County Mental Health Department,” said Carter. “They’re overseeing the funding.”
That funding pays for four community schools coordinators, working with the Binghamton, Johnson City, Union Endicott and Whitney Point districts.
“So we have all of these things bubbling up, but we need a person on our end to be the Binghamton University community schools coordinator,” said Carter, “so we hired Pam (Misener) half-time for one year.”
The community schools idea is a popular and proven way to connect parents and their kids with schools, Carter added. “The school can be seen as a hub and we can offer services in that school that go above and beyond what the school can offer. Our idea was ‘What can the University provide to be able to help these communities?”
Binghamton school district students are scoring in bottom 10 percent in the state in terms of performance, said Carter – another reason the Promise Zone money came this way. Plus, cuts in support for students struggling with psychological and behavioral issues made the county mental health department the logical agency to oversee the funding.
“We’re really transitioning from SHARE and continuing the work that was already being done,” said Carter. “The directive is to be county wide. There are other schools wanting to get on board and BOCES is also part of this.”
Misener sees herself as someone who can connect the dots − the University with the schools, and the schools with the parents and students − to realize the community schools model. There is also a partnership with the Children’s Aid Society out of New York City, which provides a kind of Promise Zone technical coordination
“Right now we’re doing a needs assessment in the different schools,” Misener said. “We have knowledge already, but the first step is always to work with the schools and we’re beginning to engage in a more structured needs assessment with them.”
A Road Map proposal for more coordinator funding is also in the works. “These coordinators work with the administrators and parents, teachers and all different constituents and say ‘What do we need that Binghamton University can help us with?’” said Carter. “How do we address attendance issues? Kids can’t learn if they’re not in school. What does academic achievement or family achievement look like? How can the school also engage with community partners, including Binghamton University?”
Misener’s day can look like a whole host of things, she said. “One thing is that I’m learning about the University and what it can share. I’m also connecting with the coordinators in the different schools to see how we can be helpful with their needs and being part of the collective body as we create the infrastructure to support the Promise Zone,” she said.
Supporting the collaborative work that’s already happening is key for MIsener, who is very pleased at how welcoming the larger body has been. “Not having to do all that legwork by myself is good, and the coordinators have been very welcoming to me in this work, and the University by extension.”
One way this work is happening is to afford our Binghamton University students the opportunity to fulfill internships through the Career Development Centralized Internship Program (CDCI), Misener said. “There are some in each school doing a number of things identified by the coordinators in those areas. Along with that comes the structure the University provides to the interns through the weekly internship seminars.
“These students (about 40 of them) have formed this amazing cohort,” said Misener. “Though they are all doing different things, they’re working with similar themes and having this shared experience that makes the learning around this exponentially greater than what can sometimes happen in this kind of effort. There’s a sense of camaraderie that you don’t always see to this degree.”
The experience is such a positive for them that a number of the interns are looking for ways to remain through the summer, even as volunteers if necessary, said Misener. “Others are talking about rethinking their educational and career paths. It’s these kinds of transformative learning opportunities that not only benefit families and students at the sites, but our students and campus community as well.”