Friday, May 2, 2008

BRINGING BACK THE COMMUNITY SCHOOL

JOE SMYDO, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE Richardo Grimsley, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School in Homewood, said he sometimes thought about writing poetry but didn't put pen to paper until a new after-school program debuted in October. So far, he's authored 20 poems, including "Fantasy," about his childhood dreams, and "Get Up," about his struggles with adversity. He's also refurbishing a bicycle through the program.

Called the Lighthouse Project, the program represents the Pittsburgh Public Schools' first efforts to create "community" or "full-service" schools that go beyond education to focus on students' health and welfare.

Many community schools serve adults, too.

They often stay open well into the evening, providing a range of social services to lift individuals, mend families and revitalize neighborhoods. "Get Up" could be the schools' theme. . .

With a contract of about $300,000, the Homewood-Brushton YMCA launched the project with classes in poetry, dance, music production and visual arts, all designed to broaden Westinghouse students' horizons.

While Richardo worked on poetry, other students printed T-shirts with a Lighthouse Project logo, painted murals and practiced "stepping," the dance style highlighted in the movie "Stomp the Yard."

The program also includes guest speakers and field trips. . .

The Lighthouse Project operates from 3 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Attendance fluctuates; about 30 students were present Wednesday.

Community schools are modeled after the 19th-century settlement houses that provided education, health care and other services to immigrants in New York and Chicago. The philosopher John Dewey advanced the concept in a 1902 address titled "The School as Social Center," and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation funded some of the nation's earliest community schools in Flint, Mich., during the 1930s.

Interest has waxed and waned, with the Coalition for Community Schools in Washington, D.C., trying to build numbers and secure federal funding for the schools. . .

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