The Whitefoord program offers a range of activities, including arts and crafts, computer instruction, and field trips to a nearby swimming pool.
Audrey Smith has seen a lot of well-intentioned programs come and go in Whitefoord, a small, predominantly African-American community in Atlanta, Georgia. And too often, she says, the programs were based on someone else's idea of what the poor, largely underserved neighborhood needed.
"Many people have promised us the world and then didn't give us anything but a few raindrops to wet our lips," says Smith, who is a family advocate and member of the Whitefoord Community Advisory Council.
For five years, though, the Whitefoord Community Program, a neighborhood-based, not-for-profit organization, has been working with area residents to create a new model for community schools and services. It's a model, say Smith and others, that has as its foundation a belief that the community knows best what the community needs. Through ongoing dialogue and cooperation, the Whitefoord Community Program has fostered what director Kenneth Lloyd calls a "holistic approach to education," teaming with local schools and community partners to provide a comprehensive set of services for area residents, from counseling to health care, job training to after-school enrichment programs.
Built Around the Schools
At the heart of the Whitefoord Community Program are two schools: Whitefoord Elementary and Coan Middle, representing both literally and figuratively the future of the community. Every program, every cooperative project, says director Lloyd, is designed with one central purpose in mind: to provide every child with whatever he or she needs to succeed in school.
Whitefoord residents know firsthand what the research has identified for years: that students need more than an excellent academic program to succeed in school. They need to be healthy, well fed, and surrounded by caring adults who are both willing and able to support and nurture their personal and academic growth. That's why, in addition to academic support programs like Head Start and Early Head Start, summer reading programs, and after-school tutorials, the Whitefoord Community Program includes two pediatric health clinics (one at each of the schools), job counseling, parenting classes, and much, much more.
Computer instruction is a staple of offerings at Whitefoord’s Family Learning Center.Credit: Kenneth Lloyd
A 'Whole-Family' Approach
"We take a whole-family approach to education," explains Clarence Jones, director of community education. The role of the Family Learning Center, which Jones manages and directs, is to identify and provide programs that will assist the entire family -- mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and older siblings. To that end, the center offers GED classes, job training, and computer courses for adults, as well as a variety of after-school and summer enrichment programs for the 1,800 children in the one-square mile community of Whitefoord.
Linda Hammett, a first-grade teacher at Whitefoord Elementary, has seen the impact the program has had on school-age children and their families. "There are so many issues that can hamper a child's ability to get a good education," says Hammett, who also teaches a class during the summer enrichment program.
She offers just a few examples of how the program has had a positive effect on the lives of her students and their families: Thanks to the school-based clinics, children receive regular (and preventative) health care -- something that wasn't always possible when families had to travel outside the community for those services. The after-school program has given many students a safe, comfortable place to go while their parents are working. Partnerships with community groups like Hands On Atlanta have led to beautification projects, creating a sense of pride in the school and the neighborhood.
Giving the Community What it Wants
In keeping with its mission to be driven by the needs of the community, the Whitefoord Community Program has evolved over the years. First came the clinic at Whitefoord Elementary, then came child care services. Over time, through hours and hours of discussion and a commitment to consensus-based decision making, the services have grown to meet the community's changing needs. One key component of this growth is the hiring of community residents themselves to serve as family advocates, teachers, counselors in the after-school program, and more.
"Instead of looking at the debts of a community, we believe in looking at its assets," says Lloyd.
In Whitefoord, as in communities all over the country, it's the area residents who have the most to give -- and the most to gain -- by coming together to create a network of programs and services in support of education.