Academic journal article School Community Journal

"Remember, It's a Pilot": Exploring the Experiences of Teachers/Staff at a University-Assisted Community School

Academic journal article School Community Journal

"Remember, It's a Pilot": Exploring the Experiences of Teachers/Staff at a University-Assisted Community School

Article excerpt

Abstract

With roots in community development and the work of Dewey, a compelling case has been made for universities to be involved in urban school reform. Further, with increasing demands placed on universities to become responsive to community needs, university partnerships with K-12 schools are one means by which institutions of higher education have become involved in local educational issues. One particular type of community-school-university involvement approach is a University-Assisted Community School (UACS). Much of the research related to such school-university partnerships has focused on describing what a UACS "looks like," with little attention given to the day-to-day experiences of those that work within a UACS. In this paper, we present findings from a qualitative study examining the experiences of teachers and staff who have participated in the development of and/or taught at a UACS afterschool program. Findings highlighted (1) the challenges and transitions associated with being a pilot effort; (2) the felt differences between universities and schools as they relate to on-the-ground implementation; and (3) the potential of the UACS model as a collaborative vehicle for accomplishing tasks that neither institution can accomplish alone. We point to implications related to school-university partnerships and directions for future research.

KeyWords: university-assisted community school, partnerships, collaboration, implementation, teachers, after-school program staff, afterschool, urban

Introduction

With increasing economic and social changes, more demands are being placed on K-12 schools and universities to become responsive to community needs and demands (Stanton, 2008). Benson, Harkavy, and Puckett (2007) have made a compelling case for universities to be involved in urban school reform, with roots in community development and the work of John Dewey (1902, 1910). Drawing on previous work, Benson and Harkavy (1991) called for institutions of higher education to act as anchors or "community-rooted" institutions. Such institutions, they argued, "simultaneously: (a) have firm bases in, attachments to, identifications with particular geographic communities; (b) regard themselves as 'citizens of the world;' (c) aspire to practice and help achieve universal humane values, contribute to the 'relief of man's estate' [and] the betterment of humanity" (p. 12). Boyer (1990) challenged faculty in higher education to remain relevant to society at large and to seriously attend to the very meaning of being a "scholar." He maintained that academics have a role to play in using their knowledge to solve social problems; further, he cautioned that the focus on research-just-for-the-sake-of-research serves to limit the academy's relevance within the larger community. He called, then, for a radical reorientation in higher education; one in which the needs of the local community are placed at the forefront.

University partnerships with K-12 schools are one means by which institutions of higher education have become involved in local educational issues. One particular type of community-school-university involvement approach is a University-Assisted Community School (UACS; Benson & Harkavy, 1994; Harkavy, 1998), an approach in which schools are seen as the focal points for community life and are believed to "function as environment-changing institutions if they become centers of broad-based partnerships involving a variety of community organizations and institutions" (Harkavy, 1998, p. 36). The UACS model not only focuses on assisting schools in meeting needs outside of their traditional scope, but also on reorienting the university toward community-based problem solving. This approach comes with a commitment to advocacy-based scholarship and serves to push the university outside of its potentially isolating ivory tower.

While there has been much writing on what a UACS looks like, far less research has systematically examined the experiences of those who participate in a UACS. …

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