Friday, August 22, 2008

A School boycott, or not?

You can search Google for “school boycott Chicago” and find 10 articles on the first page talking about how ministers in Chicago are urging a boycott in order to change the funding formula for how Illinois funds public schools.

This makes great news, but does it make sense?

It certainly is important. This map shows that there are a lot more poorly performing schools in low income areas of the city, than in other areas. But what do we get from a boycott?

For instance, if the per student spending for Chicago kids were $1,000 higher, what would we get as a result?

Would that change the poverty surrounding a school? Would it expand the range work and career opportunities modeled by parents and community members in high poverty neighborhoods.

Would it expand the number of businesses with volunteer and philanthropy strategies tied to workforce development goals?

Would it expand the number of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs, with technology, arts and college and career support, such as offered by Cabrini Connections to teens in the Cabrini Green area?

Do we really believe that if several thousand CPS students sit in the lobby at New Trier or in downtown businesses for a few days will change the priorities of members of the state legislature who live in the suburbs, or in downstate Illinois? How many votes are needed to change the funding formula anyway?

Is there a strategy to increase the number of people who might vote for such a policy change, because they have become personally involved with kids in these neighborhoods?

I don’t know the answers to these questions.

What I do know is that school starts in a couple of weeks and kids living in high poverty areas, or near poorly performing schools would befit by being part of a comprehensive, volunteer-based tutor/mentor program.

What I do know is that these programs are all recruiting volunteers right now, and most of them are also looking for donors, to cover the increasing expenses of operating a program, or the short fall in funding from other sources caused by the poor economy or the donor attention on the national elections or their own personal health and family issues.

I also know that as a result of becoming a volunteer at Cabrini Connections many years ago, I and several other former volunteers now are leading tutor/mentor programs, or helping to raise money for them. If there were more programs like this throughout the city, perhaps this would increase the number of volunteers who take on such leadership roles, and who help change public policy, while also working to increase private funding for extra learning and mentoring initiatives throughout the city.

With the media writing about the boycott, the conventions, the Olympics, how do the leaders of these neighborhood tutor/mentor programs find new volunteers, or donors to help pay the bills?

You are the answer. Think of yourself as the red dot in this graphic.

If you email five or ten people in your network, and encourage them to look at this Volunteer Recruitment Video, or read articles on this blog and look for ways to be a volunteer or a donor in a Chicago tutor/mentor program, you will be helping to build a bridge between those who live in affluent areas and have the resources to help, and kids in poor neighborhoods, who need good schools, and great networks, but cannot get these without your help.

Don’t wait and expect someone else to take this role. While you’re reading about the boycott, build your list and send out an invitation to support one or more of the tutor/mentor programs that you can review in the Chicago Program Links section of our web site.

Check back tomorrow and I’ll post an article about how churches in the suburbs can help neighborhoods in the city, or in poverty areas of the suburbs.

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