Though education is not really a city government issue, there is still a role for the city to play.
If you’re asking me, I think that neighborhood planning ought to be at the top of that list. (After all, segregated schools begin in segregated neighborhoods.)
But Mayor Jennifer Roberts said she sees another opportunity to move the needle in education — what kids do when they’re not in school.
“We know that access to quality out of school programs keeps children in school, helps them stay on grade level, and helps them stay out of trouble,” she said during the “Summit on Out of School Time” at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church earlier this month.
Hundreds of people showed up, from after school and summer camp program leaders, mentorship nonprofit heads, fundraisers, counselors, business leaders, policy nerds, police officers, teachers, elected officials and parents.
All came with one, overarching question: What do we do to better serve our city’s youth?
As many parents already know, there can be significant barriers to putting your child into a quality after school, summer camp or extracurricular program.
At least for my family, if we can work out the transportation and the cost, it still seems like the best programs are full before we even know about them.
And some programs need help, too. They need easier ways to find and apply for funding and easier ways to collaborate with each other.
To help bridge these gaps, the mayor would like to create a “clearinghouse.”
Donors could give money to a single spot. Programs could be evaluated and could have access to professional development opportunities. Parents could easily access program information to know what’s out there. Programs could share information and resources.
This type of clearinghouse would certainly make it easier for donors and parents.
When it comes to the concerns of programs, though, I’m a bit more skeptical of its benefits.
Programs across the city are struggling with getting more people involved and informed, the time-consuming process of finding and applying for funding, and navigating the complicated bureaucracies inherent in working with the school district and government.
As currently conceived, the clearinghouse would only marginally address these issues.
Overall, I think the summit was a good first step, if for no other reason than it provided an opportunity for programs to network to fill their gaps and see what else is going on in the city — to not feel like an island in a sea of needs.
But the needs are still very real.
In the end, I walked away with much the same question on my mind as when I entered: Well, what are we going to do to better serve our city’s youth?
Though still working on the answers, Mayor Roberts said she is confident that our city will rise to the challenge, saying succinctly, “Charlotte can do this.”
Cover photo courtesy of Brent Gulledge