Kettering's support of community

Oct 31, 2003

Six years ago, Dave Doherty, Kettering's vice president of International and Governmental Activities and an individual strongly committed to the concept of community education, believed that the University had a unique opportunity to enhance the already established community education program established as a base of operations at the neighboring DTM community school.

Six years ago, Dave Doherty, Kettering's vice president of International and Governmental Activities and an individual strongly committed to the concept of community education, believed that the University had a unique opportunity to enhance the already established community education program established as a base of operations at the neighboring DTM community school. As a partner in the Flint community, Doherty is a long-time disciple of C.S. Mott and Frank J. Manley, forbearers of the world-renowned community school concept. Thanks to the support of the Mott Foundation, he was in an enviable position to lead efforts in helping to rebuild an elementary school that was the heart and soul of its neighborhood.

So Doherty got to work. He knew that Dan Berezny, the principal at DTM, had the passion and a vision for the school that included a comprehensive community education program to create after-school and summertime opportunities for local youth, and involve a great number of parents in the education of their children. Historically, this sort of initiative actually began in the 1930s, with community directors in all Flint schools who developed and implemented programs that gave kids something to do after school while involving parents in the academic achievement of children. Unfortunately, in the early 1990s budget issues forced the school district to eliminate these director positions, which effectively ended community education as it once was known. The result was an immediate disconnect between the school and parents. Thus, the only exposure school officials had to parents was through parent-teacher conferences conducted four times a year.

What Berezny needed was a community education effort that would effectively increase the community-school relationship through the addition of staffing and funding. This is where Kettering got involved. University officials were persuaded that offering some kind of financial support to DTM could only positively impact the local community and help attract additional community partners. More importantly, Kettering could directly contribute to the well being of local kids, something that all universities throughout the country should try to do as much as possible.

According to data provided by the Flint Community Schools, some elementary schools in the local community experience 40-50 percent student mobility during the year, which represents a major issue with most urban cities throughout the country. Additionally, less than 20 percent of parents own their own home, a figure that also contributes to issues of parent participation in the educational life of their children. However, Berezny noted that attendance of students at DTM was 90-92 percent during the 2002-2003 school year, primarily because the school provides breakfast, lunch, a caring and committed staff, and a safe and orderly environment in which learning can take place. As a result of these and other issues, Kettering University stepped forward four years ago, agreeing to pay the salary of a community/school coordinator. Mark Evans, who serves in this role, is a Flint native who is more than aware of the issues facing the neighborhood around DTM and the City of Flint. He was hired to assist the school with after-school programs and in developing initiatives that meet the needs of the broader community. In 2000, the Flint Community School system won a 21st Century Program grant from the state of Michigan to assist eight schools in creating and enhancing after-school and community outreach programs.

This funding came at a crucial time. The grant gave DTM a chance to upgrade activities they could not offer previously due to a lack of funding. Evans was able to connect with area businesses and develop an employment program for 30-35 middle and high school students who wanted to earn money during the summer. The Community Foundation of Greater Flint initially funded the program. Kids worked at the Flint Public Library West Branch, Shelton Automotive, Easter Seals and the Children's Museum to name just a few of the 35 employers who participated. "The partnerships between DTM and businesses really benefit the kids and show them that hard work does pay off," Evans said.

Additionally, the Ruth Mott Foundation in Flint provided a $150,000 "three for one" matching grant to build the Ruth Mott Play Environment for children in the community, with special attention to the needs of the physically impaired students an area of specialty for DTM, which serves youngsters city and county wide. To help get this play environment off the ground, Kettering students and community supporters worked all weekend in the fall of 2002 to construct this play facility.

Additionally, to address the issue of student mobility, Evans obtained four social workers from the Family Independence Agency (FIA) to work out of DTM assisting families with their needs. He was also able to secure a Flint Police mini station in the neighborhood located at the community center behind DTM. One of his biggest goals, however, is to engage more Kettering students as mentors and tutors, and professors like Dr. Robert McAllister of the Science and Mathematics Dept. to give educational programs to students, which in turn may increase their interest in the engineering and science fields.

"Kettering has really helped out tremendously with our community outreach efforts," Evans noted, "and we're extremely fortunate to have them as our neighbor. Students as well as faculty have made favorable impressions on our students, which only increases their desire to learn more. I know that we can count on Kettering faculty and students in the near future to assist us and I want to thank them for all of their efforts. More importantly, we need volunteers to help staff the police station. It's important that all of us look out for each other to reduce crime in our community."

Although Durant Tuuri Mott Elementary benefited greatly from the 21st Century Grant and from Kettering's support of community outreach efforts, the school is not slated to receive any additional funding from the 21st Century program in the near future, which is surprising, given the success of community outreach efforts and student learning achievement. But this will not stop Evans and Berezny, or Kettering's efforts to help revitalize the community through the efforts of DTM. Evans hopes to include even more Kettering students and faculty in programs such as science and engineering learning experiences in which faculty teach young kids about these two areas of study. As Doherty, Berezny and Evans sees it, learning is a continuous process that relies on community partnerships for success.

And as far as drawing the parents more deeply into the school life of their children, DTM expects to hold meetings at the school and a Parents' Night every month where college students come in to help students develop their math skills and parents receive a chance to read books to their kids. The hope is that many more Flint Community Schools will be able to emulate the synergistic outcomes of the DTM/Kettering community partnership.

To learn how you and your organization can assist in community outreach efforts in the Durant Tuuri Mott Elementary school area, please contact Mark Evans at (810) 422-0115.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538