Grant Launches A/B Community Service Effort

One of three In the nation

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A $300,000 grant has paved the way for a groundbreaking new partnership between Boston College and the Allston-Brighton community to establish an extended services program at the Thomas Gardner Elementary School, beginning in January.

Through the three-year grant from the DeWitt Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, Boston College will team with local health and social service agencies, and neighborhood parents, in locating at the Gardner School a wide range of extracurricular services for pupils and their families. It is one of only three such projects DeWitt Wallace is funding nationally.

The program will extend the school's hours of operation to include afternoons, weekends and summer months, when it will provide academic instruction with various opportunities for career exploration and personal enrichment. The school also will offer family support services such as legal assistance, job counseling, health services, computer training and English as a Second Language classes. Thirty children have already signed up for the program, administrators said.

The partnership was celebrated at a Nov. 12 dinner hosted by University President William P. Leahy, SJ, in the Lower Campus Dining Hall Heights Room. Some 150 residents, school officials and politicians attended the event, along with representatives from the DeWitt Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, neighborhood hospitals and social service agencies, and Boston College administrators, faculty and graduate students.

Delivering the dinner's keynote address, Boston School Superintendent Thomas Payzant called the Gardner School project "a model of partnership for teaching and learning" that could be multiplied throughout the Boston Public Schools.

University, school and community representatives laid the groundwork for the Gardner project under a $50,000 planning grant from DeWitt Wallace that was awarded in March to Boston College and administered by the University's Center for Child, Family and Community Partnerships. Faculty and administrators from the College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School of Social Work, Carroll School of Management, and schools of Education, Law and Nursing also are collaborating in the effort.

Brennan Professor of Education Richard Lerner, the CCFCP director, said the Gardner School project "exemplifies the vision of the center for integrating knowledge and service with the voice and values of the community." Lerner said faculty working through the CCFCP will bring to the project their perspectives on "best practice" in youth development programs, while community members will contribute their own unique knowledge of their neighborhood's strengths and needs.

"The co-learning and collaboration that mark this project make it a model of 'outreach scholarship,' said Lerner, "one that can inform other CCFCP projects as well as other universities that seek to add value to the lives of the people of their communities."

The school serves an Allston-Brighton neighborhood with a large, ethnically diverse immigrant population, project administrators say, and more than 30 languages are spoken among the families of the school's 520 pupils. While BC will continue its participation, the grant supporting the Gardner project will be administered through the Allston-Brighton Family YMCA, which helped lead the planning effort earlier this year along with the Allston-Brighton Healthy Boston Center.

The arrangement points up the community-centered nature of the project, said SOE Associate Dean Mary Walsh, who with GSSW Field Education Director Robbie Tourse submitted the proposal for the DeWitt Wallace grant.

"It's a new place for us to be as a university," said Walsh. "We are partnering, not dropping truths from heaven above, but serving as part of a learning group. Boston College's role in this effort is to engage what we do best - scholarship - in collaboration with the school and community."

As part of the grant, BC will place graduate research assistants at the school, project administrators noted. Their role will be to assist in providing some of the services, as well as to evaluate the project's development.

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