Nationally, universities attempt to achieve gains through isolated civic engagement efforts that lack efficacy in producing major changes within communities. Binghamton University strives for greater impact through the Promise Zone Community Schools Project. The project is a collaborative effort among CCPA, Student Affairs, Broome County schools, and local public and non-profit organizations. Complementing support from NYS Promise Zones to better link schools and mental health, the goal of this proposal is to educate and involve BU students in a coordinated academic affairs-student affairs approach to addressing grave educational disparities in our county. For example, Binghamton School District’s student test scores fall in the bottom 10% of all schools in NYS; low-income students in Broome County rural schools lack necessary supports for academic success due to limited health and social services and transportation options. Building on Governor Cuomo’s education reform commission’s 2013 recommendation to build community schools, with BU as a primary partner, Broome County is building the state’s first/only county-wide system of community schools. The state is looking for BU to be a role model for the SUNY system for community-university collaboration to improve NYS schools.
Initially, the Student Affairs Division was searching for a project that would engage our students as well as create a measurable impact in the local community. We knew of the needs in the schools in the community and sought campus partners to assist in our efforts. Faculty in the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) had previously started working with schools in the community through a grant they had received. The work they accomplished was a great start but as the grant funding came to an end, they searched for an opportunity to continue this great work. The Dean of CCPA and the Vice President for Student Affairs initiated discussion about partnering on this joint project. Each partner would contribute to funding and/or staff to the project. A collaboration meeting was held in which CCPA faculty and Student Affairs staff planned the project details. CCPA faculty included those who had worked on the previous grant and those whose research areas of interest included improving educational disparities in the community. Student Affairs representatives included staff from the VPSA office, Career Development Center and Center for Civic Engagement. Once the University partnerships were solidified, community partners were invited to participate in the discussion of the project.
Through our engagement with the local community and school districts, we can provide significant economic, social and cultural impact. Examples include providing K-12 students with tutoring, theatre, dance and mentoring activities and engaging parents of K-12 children in educational discussions, computer literacy programs and parenting programs. Through the project University students are gaining the opportunity to learn about and impact disparities that exist within the community through internship and classroom experiences that will aid them in their future careers, education and life as citizens. Because this work crosses disciplinary boundaries, BU students work with their peers from all university schools and colleges and learn about transdisciplinary collaboration to address community needs and social problems. With base funding from NYS and Broome County Office of Mental Health, and University leadership, we are presented with an opportunity to make a significant difference in our community and at the same time present transformative learning options for our students.
As the program grows, opportunities for collaboration grow. Further project development includes plans to include more involvement of faculty as well as additional offices. For example, Whitney Point schools are planning an activity for students that will involve our Residential Life offices. Several schools have requested assistance in STEM fields which have resulted in further discussions with some of our science faculty. Another service that schools have requested is tutoring students in preparation for taking their SAT exams. This involves a collaboration with our Academic Support Center. Also assisting students and parents in completing financial aid applications for college will involve our Financial Aid office staff conducting workshops. Schools have requested more support for Arts, Theatre and Athletics which involves collaborations with faculty and students from those departments as well. The CDC conducted resume review for high school students in Union-Endicott High School and other schools have expressed an interest in that service as well. Summer and fall projects are currently in the planning stage and will involve additional collaborations. We look forward to growing future collaborations in Broome County.
Dr. Elizabeth Carter, Assistant Vice President for Student Development, Binghamton University
Dr. Laura Bronstein, Dean, College of Community and Public Affairs, Binghamton University