University reaches out to Youngstown City Schools
In September, a panel of experts gathered together as part of the Alumni Lecture Series to discuss what could be done to confront the growing woes of urban school districts. Among a series of other topics, panelists discussed the role that public universities have to play in assisting the ailing urban schools — more specifically, what role does Youngstown State University have to play?
Charles Howell, the Dean of the Beeghly College of Education, and Susan Moorer, the Coordinator of P-12 assessment at the Beeghly College of Education, mapped out exactly what that role is.
“It is a three pronged effort,” Howell said. “One of the things we do is these individual faculty outreach efforts, another of them is clinical placement, which is a cross college initiative, and another is recruiting, which really involves the whole university. It is about helping kids that may not otherwise consider attending college.”
YSU, being a pillar of the larger Youngstown community, is involved in conversation with both the Youngstown and Warren city school districts. However, involvement does not stop there. It includes both direct outreach and attempting to understand and inevitably tackle the institutional problems that chip away at urban districts.
One of these cardinal
efforts is YSU’s partnership with the Youngstown Early College.
“I think our biggest initiative is Youngstown Early College. This is a YSU partnership. The College of Education plays the role of host, facilitating this relationship, but it’s a partnership between the university and the city schools,” Howell said. “It is for talented first generation high school students, who are willing to and interested in a rigorous curriculum. They have extensive supports built in and they are on our campus. They get dual credit for a number of their courses, and their tuition rate is adjusted to reflect the fiscal challenges facing the city schools.”
After meeting with Connie Hawthorne, the superintendent of Youngstown City Schools, Howell considered taking a new approach to clinical placement, commonly known as student teaching. Alongside sending an increasing number of students to urban school districts, Beeghly has tried extending, in several cases, the student-teaching period to a year.
“[Hawthorne’s] big priority was teachers who were prepared to teach kids in urban classrooms that have classroom management skills, the cultural understanding, the ability to reach out to parents and that type of thing. So one of our main vehicles for doing that, for developing those capacities in students, is a year long clinical placement,” Howell said. “These clinical placements are our absolute best pipelines to jobs, because you really know a kid after a year, and you know whether you want to hire him or not.”
Beeghly’s efforts are not limited to these direct and formal programs, however. A good portion of their involvement comes in working on joint ventures with urban school boards and superintendents.
“Dr. Hawthorne and I met with a group of donors to try to fund a program for graduate interns that would be placed in the city schools,” said Howell.
For Howell, assisting urban schools is about understanding urban schools. This is why Beeghly has hired on faculty members such as Regina Rees, Professor of Teacher Education, who worked in Warren Harding.
“Yes, I believe that working in an urban setting helped me with my job at YSU,” said Rees. “I will tell you this, I loved, absolutely loved, teaching in Warren. I loved those high school students so much, and it was a wonderful experience. Oh gosh, we had some brilliant kids.”
Howell also emphasized the importance of communications with officials and employees of the city schools themselves.
“One thing we have to be careful of is that university involvement has to be an equal partnership, not a situation where the university dominates. Because there is a sensitivity in public school districts about the universities thinking they know district needs better than the districts themselves,” Howell said. “So we have to be very careful that we consult with the district about what will be useful to them.”
The final aspect of involvement is more individualistic. It is about encouraging the faculty and staff to go out and extensively participate in outreach, in an attempt to facilitate strong ties and familiarity to urban schools.
“The Youngstown City Schools is meeting with the local pastors in the area to try to formulate a connection between the churches, especially the black churches, and the school district. Because many times you can’t reach the children or their parents, but most of the children belong to a church,” Moorer said, detailing her involvement in a Youngstown City School program. “If you can reach them in their church, if you can establish a tutoring program inside those churches that is a really good way to try to help the children.”
Despite all of these programs listed, the university’s role in city schools is far from done evolving. As the difficulties facing city schools change, then so will the nature of YSU’s involvement. Part of this is determining what the root causes of urban school districts faltering are.
“It is multiple systems interacting to produce results that no one desires. I think there has been a huge frustration at the state level at the result of these schools. I think nationally we are recognizing that we can not do business as usual in urban school districts,” Howell said. “To do something about the educational opportunities, it requires collective impact of all the community’s stakeholders: businesses, non-profits, schools, universities, citizens, social organizations, churches.”
Determining a role in outreach also requires the university to understand where it is heading in a community that is still on the uphill battle to recovery. As this matter grows more lucid, then outreach will be reshaped.
“We face some fiscal challenges that limit what we could do,” Howell said. “We have to solve our enrollment problem to know where we are at, and then we have to determine what the role of outreach is in our operation. It is a very significant role especially for this college, but also for the university as a whole. I know Dr. Dunn is very committed to that, but, you know, our resources are limited. As a University, you have to live within your means.”