"Since I got involved with teaching and civil rights, all my work has been about building communities and in some sense, Boston College and the National Urban League are tools to help me do that in another way," said Cawthorne, whose appointment as vice president coincided with his promotion to research professor.
"This unique partnership between Boston College and the National Urban League advances the School of Education in its ability to provide leadership in addressing the issues of urban education," said SOE Dean Gerald Pine. "John Cawthorne is well experienced in urban education and brings to this leadership position years of experience, knowledge and special talents that will lead to great successes in this collaboration."
As vice president for education, Cawthorne will work with the National Urban League's 114 community-based affiliates across the country to help parents advocate more effectively for their children. He will also oversee two staffs, one at Boston College and one at the league's main headquarters in New York City.
Meanwhile, Cawthorne said, under his direction the league will work with the University's professional schools to learn how to form collaborations which serve teachers, students and parents.
"It will be hard to improve the quality of life for urban youth in America," he said, "but if we're serious, the fact that it's hard won't deter us."
Founded in 1910 to help blacks overcome discrimination and racism in the northern urban areas of the US, the NUL serves more than 1 million individuals each year, providing assistance in employment, education, housing and social welfare, in addition to more recent efforts in African-American male development, AIDS education, political empowerment and stemming crime in the black community.
Cawthorne said the partnership made sense because social justice is a major focus of both Boston College and the league, and both institutions can benefit from working together to help urban youth. The organization now has access to the many resources available at Boston College, he noted, including its libraries and research facilities, and will utilize them in its initiatives. The NUL's presence on campus gives the University credibility within the black community, he said, which will help attract black students and faculty, and the partnership is another opportunity for Boston College to demonstrate its commitment to urban education.
The alliance will also bring several prominent African-Americans to speak at the University this year, he said, as well as new Boston Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Payzant, who is scheduled to visit this month.
Through work with the NUL's affiliates and local outreach programs, Cawthorne plans to help parents understand math and science curriculum reform and state education reform legislation so they can take an active role in their children's learning. He will also help define activities parents can plan to help their children succeed in school and life, and produce a video on parental involvement.
Cawthorne sees a parallel between the league's initiatives and the University's Integrated Services Project, a collaborative effort between the professional schools at Boston College to help children at risk.
"It's about building real communities," said Cawthorne, who joined CSTEEP in 1989 and has long been active in the NUL. "Schools and homes can't be different if you're to have a viable community. They need to complement each other."
Cawthorne hopes parents will learn how to demand the best from teachers and make certain their children have the habits of mind to succeed in a world vastly different from the one their parents knew as children.
"By taking advantage of the natural alliances between parents and teachers, we will help bridge the gap between communities and schools," said Cawthorne, "and that gap is wide in urban communities. The issue is how do we work with schools and families to create new structures - structures that incorporate and reflect home, community and school experiences and priorities."
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