The Community Learning Program (CLP) is a grass-roots, community-based initiative that promotes civic commitment by private, public, and community organizations to supporting student education so that all students have the opportunity to attend and graduate from college.
CLP focuses the community on the goal of college graduation. As individual community members adopt the goal, they work in their own way toward achieving the goal. Individuals spontaneously coalesce or self-organize into a group or groups that continually look for innovative ways to improve the quality and performance of both the students and the lower and higher education processes. That is, improving the process of 'producing' successful college graduates requires constant examination and tinkering with the entire value pipeline to insure that students are capable of participating in the next stage of their education. Following this path back focuses attention on providing fundamental nutritional, social and behavioral support to parents as well as students.
The CLP began as a grass roots response to problems in the low socioeconomic urban community of Tangelo Park: overt drug problems, poor school attendance, declining test scores, and increasing high school dropout rates.
In 1993, after a successful effort to reclaim their neighborhood from urban blight and drug dealers, community leaders met with the County School Board Superintendent to discuss the possibility of a scholarship program for residents. Together they established a pilot program that has since developed to what is seen today. Today the program is underwritten by contributions form one businessperson, but in the future or in other similar projects, funding could come from any number of ideas suggested in this competition, one example being "The One-Stop Education FUND Platform."including developing community based companies that use part of their excess to support the community. Alternatively, as suggested by Jaskeerat Bedi in "3C (Community's Cyclic Commitment to Education," recipients would be required to repay all or part of the support money to the community program, as well as provide mentoring and other support.
The program assures quality childcare programs, parent effectiveness training, and post-secondary education or training opportunities at no cost to the community. All participants give freely of their time and expertise and monthly meetings operate with a shared decision-making model.
The Program oversees the fundraising, educational needs, and scholarship distributions for its citizens–ages 2 to 22. It offers:
• preschool opportunities for every two-, three-, and four-year old;
• parenting classes and vocational or technical opportunities for parents with children in school;
• full tuition, room, board, and living expenses for every high school graduate who is accepted by a vocational school, community college, or public university in the state.
The local school provides early intervention classes for two-, three-, and four-year old children through community-based day care, a Head Start Program, and a Pre-Kindergarten program, and also provides support services for parents, day care providers, and Pre-K teachers through the Family Service Center. In addition, the Head Start program offers a food pantry and provides assistance for public utilities and referrals. The community provides transportation to these programs.
The school provides tutors and mentors, addresses drug prevention issues, and provides workshops that address parental issues. The parent education programs also assist parents to find jobs and enhance their parenting skills.
The school children are on a one-track educational plan from elementary school through high school. The feeder schools provide counselors to transition students from the community and counselors also assist in college placement to familiarize the students with on-campus experiences.
The Elementary School has been an “A” rated Comprehensive Assessment Test school for six of the past seven years. Virtually all high school students earn a regular high school diploma; grade point averages are increasing and are predicted to exceed 3.0 in the coming years. The proportion of students moving out of the community has decreased from an average 32% during the first five years of the program to 12% in the years thereafter.
Of those students who go on to four-year schools either directly or through community college, 77% achieve a degree. Of those who go on to graduate school 83% complete their programs. Students who enter community college complete their associate degree at the rate of 32%. High school graduates entering vocational programs complete at a rate of 83%.
Crime in the neighborhood is down over 63% showing a continuous decline over the past several years. The Sheriff’s Office has acknowledged that the Program has reinforced the relationship between their office and the community.
The Program offers a positive example for other communities to follow. Identifying and investing in effective programs is a winning strategy. Results show that assistance to high-risk families can yield a long-term return on investment through lower crime rates and educational gains.