I is for Inspired

I'm working with a small group of teacher leaders, community members and others to write a proposal for a self-governed school.  Part of this school will be wrap-around services.  Our vision is to have medical, dental, mental health, employment, insurance, sports, performing and visuals arts, and much more all inside the school building.  All of this would happen before, during and after the school day
It seems like we needed to have some "street cred" to really back up our plan.  Other school ideas I've seen or heard about have all cited examples in other cities.  For instance, one plan is citing a successful program in Chicago.  I've never traveled to see any school in action.

So last week on Thursday, very early in the morning, I boarded a US Airways plane to New York.  I spent 48 hours in New York City.  The purpose of this trip was to build our "street cred" and see a wrap-around center in action.

Two people on the team visited the Dunlevy-Milbank Center in Central Harlem.  This is part of the Children's Aid Society.  We met Casper Lassiter, the center director, who actually answers the phone!  He was quite simply amazing.  We talked for about an hour about what they do and how to recreate and implement what they are doing in Minneapolis.

We also had a tour of the building and grounds.  We met the majority of the staff.  I knew that having the right people is key but this was reinforced dramatically with this visit.  Mr. Lassiter and his staff made an instant connection with everyone who walked in the door.  Nobody just walked in.  Many people got hugs. 

Our team got to see their holiday party in full glory.  They had at least 75 volunteers from a local firm that staffed at least 50 tables in the gym.  Each table had a different craft project or activity.  There was even a Santa visit!  While we were there, there were at least 400 young people that came through.  Some were from other centers.  Some were with parents.  None were alone.  Everyone had someone.

I will never forget the looks on the young peoples faces.  Just smiles.  It didn't matter who they were, where they were from, or who their parents were.  They were happy.  They were part of the community.

It was amazing.

But there was so much more:
  • A community medical/dental clinic that had two entrances (inside the center and from the street).  They are open during the day and two nights a week.  I need to figure out how they are funded.  They see roughly 15 patients a day.  When we were there, a 20ish white women walked in.  It was a clear reminder that you never know your target audience and need to be open to everyone.
  • A pool where they did swim lessons, have a swim team and use it for just general recreation.  They run life guard trainings and have it staffed when the center is open.
  • A gym that runs all kinds of recreation activities.  They have a recreation therapist on staff that plans activities.  They also run a basketball team and, I think, AAU.
  • A teaching kitchen for students and adults to learn about nutrition.  It sounds like they have cooking classes.
  • A computer lab with audio recording studio and a video studio. It is open and staffed but they also run classes.  For instance, they have a programming class for adults.
  • There is teen center that is a comfortable lounge that teens can safely hang out in.  Flat screen TV, couches, games.  Good times.
  • Outside, there is a fenced in basketball court, a fenced in miniature school pitch with artificial turf, a huge picnic area with about 20 tables and open spaces for just sitting.
  • On the roof, there is a sprinkler pool for the little kids to run around in.
Quite simply this was amazing.  The work that they are doing in this center is building community.  I felt like I was part of something just sitting in the lobby, even though I didn't look like most of the people there, had a completely different background and was from a completely different state.

I got my "street cred."  My vision is much clearer.  I know that our team can do this and make it as amazing as it is in East Harlem.

Thank you to Mr. Lassiter for taking the time on an extremely busy to met with us and pass along the knowledge that he has and help us to be successful.

I is for Inspired.


  1. Welcome home from an exciting exploration! I look forward to chatting about the project sometime soon, perhaps over break? w


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