Community Members Talk About Learning
The Somerville Learning 2030 visioning project worked to reach deep into the Somerville community to collect “ideas, values, hopes and priorities" [Pg 4] for youth learning experiences, recognizing and valuing the learning that takes place within and outside of a school environment. SPS Chief Communications and Development Officer Susana Morgan, former SomerPromise Director Anna Doherty, Education Consultants School and Main Institute, and the SL2030 Steering Committee conducted focus groups, held events in locations around the city, worked with community connectors (organizations working with youth and families) and oversaw an online survey to reach this goal. People across all ages and demographics participated.
A visioning process is a chance to step back and look at the 'big picture' for learning in Somerville. Jeff Curley, SPS Chief of Staff and Steering Committee member, adds that “because of the immediate demands of operations, we don’t always get to vision this far ahead. From the administrative point of view, it was a chance to solicit feedback and think about something that’s a longer range timeline.”
The Youth Voice
Residents under 18 years old make up 11.5% of Somerville's population and they are considerably more culturally diverse than the city’s population as a whole. This is particularly true in the public schools, which also serve high concentrations of youth from low-income families.
The Somerville Learning 2030 visioning process highlighted powerful feedback from youth contributors. “Youth proved to be as well-informed as the adults,” says SomerPromise Coordinator and Steering Committee Member Ruth Santos. In fact, Morgan reports that SL2030 conducted their first focus group with Somerville High School students. The SHS focus group showed the team that “we really weren't asking the right questions. The students showed us we needed to rethink the process. I love the fact that the process became student-driven,” she says.
Read the report and you will find insightful youth feedback. In the Teens and High School section [Pg 15], students ask for curriculum that is “relevant and adapted to the needs of teens.” One student also commented on the structure of the school day. “Everything moves too fast and we change too quickly from one thing to the next.” Looking to the future, student participants want academic learning that is hands-on and curriculum that challenges them and helps them develop as people.
Parents and guardians of younger children were eager to see an “emphasis on learning through play and projects” during the elementary school day. [Pg 9]
Putting Youth Needs at the Top
The SL2030 visioning process provided the clarity of a data-backed list of priorities for the city and district. Among universal themes were desires for comprehensive mental health supports, affordable housing, and a love for project work. Some issues can be addressed immediately, like food security and curriculum updates. Finding solutions to issues like housing security requires a longer timeline. The Somerville Public Schools and City of Somerville have initiatives in place to address many issues that came up, and these are listed in the report along with the feedback summaries. Feedback served to underscore the importance of continuing many current SPS district programs. Somerville Learning 2030 provided concrete, community feedback that will inform district goal-setting and, consequently, the budgeting process for years to come.
The City of Somerville will also include the Somerville Learning 2030 report as a chapter in the City’s SomerVision2040 report. By including SL2030 in the current SomerVision2040 results, Somerville’s city departments will be able to refer back to the report as they prioritize their budgets and goals. SomerPromise is one such city department. Ruth Santos says, “I think sometimes you might turn in a survey and feel like your answers vanish into thin air. I reference the survey almost daily in my work. It informs my work. I want to acknowledge that.”
Keep Speaking Up!
Susana Morgan wants people to think of this report as an ongoing process. She points out that it’s important to hear from parents, guardians and community members regularly to get great ideas. Steering Committee Member and SPS Data Coordinator Kenya Avant says, “even though the report is published and finalized, we value and appreciate community feedback. If there is someone whose ideas are not yet represented here, a voice or a concern, a perspective of any population, we’d still like to hear from you.”
- We’d love to hear from you. You can still provide feedback!
- Read the Report: Learning in Somerville: Community Feedback. Somerville Learning 2030 Listening Project Finds. Read how data was gathered, community priorities by age group, bullet lists of ongoing initiatives addressing issues, and important demographic information about our youth.
- Read the first blog about SL2030.
Somerville Learning 2030 is a collaborative project of the City of Somerville, Somerville Public Schools, city youth organizations and citizens, and was supported by funds from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
R. Ronen, Communications Specialist.