Academic journal article School Community Journal

Faith, Hope, Tolerance, and Sense of Community

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Faith, Hope, Tolerance, and Sense of Community

Article excerpt


The challenge of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity has inspired new trends in community research. New models eschew an emphasis on conformity to open communities up to difference, both among members, and between members and an ever more complex social world. The data here are taken from a student-experience study of a diverse post-secondary preparatory academy for high schoolers. The paper examines student reports of the changes they experienced as they progressed through the Academy, building faith, faith in each other and in themselves, hope, necessary to support long-term investment, and tolerance, sufficient to find in their diversity the resources they need to fulfill their dreams. The analysis relies on David McMillan's (1996) sense of community to develop a thick description of student experience in this school community.

Key Words: sense of community, school community, diversity, peers, tutoring, counseling, afterschool, summer, college preparation, preparatory academy


The pursuit of school community has always been part of a more encompassing concern with the decline of what is often called solidarity, or a sense of belonging, of mutual responsibility and caring in societies more generally-a topic that came to the center of the social and behavioral sciences with the onset of the industrial era in the West. As a part of that more general concern, the study of community inherited a history of scholarship emphasizing the importance of conformity, of value consensus, shared symbol systems, and community boundaries (the distinction between "us and them"), elements that challenge the possibility of community in an increasingly diverse social environment (Apple, 2004; McMillan & Chavis, 1986). In an effort to meet the challenges posed by diversity, social and behavioral scientists have sought out new ways of characterizing community that discourage exclusion and closure. Increasingly, what we seek to understand are communities that open out to the many different worlds in which they are embedded, that encourage "faith, hope, and tolerance" (McMillan & Chavis, 1986, p. 20) while preserving their own integrity.

As an example of this conceptual shift, we might look at one of the most widely applied theoretical schemes, McMillan and Chavis's sense of community (SOC). In their work published in the Journal of Community Psychology in1986, McMillan and Chavis drew on the traditional research on group cohesion to locate SOC in four elements: Membership, Influence, Integration and Need Fulfillment, and Shared Emotional Connection. McMillan's revision of the scheme in 1996 resonated major shifts in thinking about community, shifts that Fyson argued opened the model to transformational community, community which resolves "some of the tensions between 'you and me'"(1999, p. 348).

The purpose of this paper is to examine the way these conceptual changes register in our thinking about school community and what it does. The focus of the analysis is the student community in a successful post-secondary preparatory academy housed by a public university in the old-industrialized Northeast (henceforth, "the Academy"). Data for the paper were gathered in the student-experience phase of a study of the Academy. Three questions guide the analysis: Can McMillan's (1996) revised elements-Spirit, Trust, Trade, and Art-suggest how this community opens to diversity both inside and outside the Academy? Can they help us understand how this diverse school community secures its own integrity while continuing to support individual differences? What insights do these revised elements give us into student accounts of the process by which they have grown into the educational mainstream?

The Preparatory Academy

Post-secondary preparatory programs find their origin in mid-1960s federal Poverty Program legislation, the prototype being Upward Bound, a program designed to ameliorate the persisting achievement gap, the difference in educational attainment between children from prosperous and middle-income homes and those whose parents are less fortunate. …

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