The array of charter schools across the modern New Orleans public education landscape has created a great deal more choices for students and parents. But some education advocates say that the notion of the neighborhood school as a community hub has diminished as those choices lead so many students to campuses that might be far from where they live.
“Last year, 80 percent of public school students traveled at least three miles to get to school, each way, every day,” says Mat Schwarzman, executive director of the New Orleans Kids Partnership.
The partnership is a nonprofit that coordinates and supports a network of after school and summer programs. Schwarzman says all that commuting by students and their parents has changed the way families access the afterschool and enrichment services available to them, while also limiting the contact students and families in the same neighborhoods would otherwise have if they attended the same nearby schools.
In response, the New Orleans Kids Partnership created a new initiative to bring the potential of its member organizations to families closer to home, through those neighborhood schools, even if the students are enrolled somewhere across town.
Over the summer, the group started Great Resources Where Y’at (or GRoW) as a 14-week pilot program at Arthur Ashe Charter School in Gentilly. Each Saturday, students attending any school are welcome there and can participate in programs and student clubs including bicycling, karate, theater and dance. Students and families pick the programs that interest them and can spend the day exploring the arts, learning new skills or getting fun exercise, while the nonprofit community cafe Liberty’s Kitchen prepares and serves healthy lunches. GRoW is open to all children who either live or go to school in the 70122 or 70126 zip codes.
“It’s a way of knitting the future of neighborhoods back together through young people because everyone agrees they are the future,” Schwarzman says.
As the new school year gets underway, the partnership hopes to expand this community hub model to other parts of town and link it with similar initiatives that are also working to make the schoolhouse more central to neighborhood life.
In the meantime, GRoW continues at Arthur Ashe on Saturdays this fall. For details, visit nokp.org.