On Building Communities

"Our goal is to have all Edgewood students graduate from high school with two sets of skills: communication and computers." - John Duley

By John Duley

This is the third post in a guest series by John Duley. Here, he discusses how one housing property is building community and educating students in technology and communication. 

This series is about a very serious problem for us as a people, members of the richest country in the world.  The national organization Kids Count Data Center reported in 2016 that 28% (19,617,000) of American school children lived in poverty (21% in Michigan, 46,000).  They have little opportunity to gain technology skills, access the Internet, or own a computer.  It is a growing phenomenon that if high school graduates do not have two sets of skills (computer and communication), their chances for gainful employment will be non-existent.

This blog is not about the knowledge content of the curriculum: it is about the experiential process of competency development; it is about process and not about the cognitive content of the curriculum.

In 1994 the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition, a not-for-profit agency, purchased Edgewood Village, a 135-unit HUD property (owned by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) serving very low-income people. Thirty-five units are single bed units serving seniors and handicapped individuals, mostly living on Social Security, and one hundred two, three, and four bedroom units are townhouses, all scattered in a five acre property. These townhouse units are rented to low, very low, and extremely low income families, mostly single parent families, many of whom are refugees. HUD encouraged owners to establish Neighborhood Network Centers, providing a more level educational playing field for children and helping residents become more employable. We established an eight-station computer lab.

We established an eight-station computer lab in the six story tower with 30 of the one bedroom units, the management offices, a common room, library, kitchen, and eating area for the residents potluck suppers and staff meetings. The computer lab was intended to provide training, computer ownership, and access to the Internet for all of the residents. We hired staff and invited all residents to take advantage of this opportunity. The only people who used the lab were residents of the tower apartments. They used it to contact family, make greeting cards, and publish a booklet of favorite recipes. This was my first introduction to the attitude many who move into subsidized housing bring with them—“These are not my kind of people. I won’t be here long, so I don’t have to socialize with these kind of folks.”

This was 1995. It wasn’t until 2012 that Edgewood Village began to feel like a community.

Here we are twenty-three years later in 2018, with all seven of our high school graduates attending the colleges of their choice with full scholarships and thirty-five fifth through twelfth graders in the Edgewood Village Scholars Program. Junior and senior high school students in this program are doing internships to help them decide what they want from a college education.  Many of these students are sons and daughters of refugee families and almost all the families are single-family households living in poverty.  We have a commitment over the next five years to develop a program through which all Edgewood students will graduate from high school with two sets of skills: communication (reading, writing, public speaking, listening, engaging in collaborative conversation, etc.) and computers. If they are to obtain employment that will pay a living wage, these skills are a must.

We now have a 1500 sq. ft. Village Network Center with a strong after-school tutoring program, a computer lab of 20 computers, with loaners available when the lab is closed. We have an excellent working relationship with the Information Technology Education Center (ITEC) that provides our youth with STEM and Robotic programs.

We need your help!  Do any of your schools have a similar program?  If so, what are your schools doing about these two skill areas?  What programs have they developed to make sure that all high school graduates are equipped with these two skillsets?  What levels of expertise are they setting?  How will they measure the students’ achievements?  Will every child have an iPad?  What training will be given to those children who have little or no experience with computers?

Our commitment to the community is to have all from high school with these skill sets and be encouraged to seek further education at the local Community College or Intermediate School District Career Center. We are in the planning stages and would appreciate any experience you can share.



Kids Count Data Center: A Project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Datacenter.kidscount.org/.


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