Unit 4 finally made good on their promise to return to Shadow Wood after their August 17th meeting (I think that was the last one); a group of residents and a bevy of Unit 4 reps crowded into the Shadow Wood Community Center. Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand opened the evening with introductions, joined by Assistant Superintendents Dr. Susan Zola and Dr. Laura Taylor; Barbara Ramsay had two of her Transportation guys there to listen and take notes, ESL Director Maria Alanis was there to do the bulk of the translating, Board Member Ileana Saveley also helped bridge the language obstacles and engage the residents, and Central Assistant Principal Bryan Yacko was there to represent the high school district in which Shadow Wood now resides. Champaign City Council Member Will Kyles also dropped by and addressed the group.
The first order of the night was Transportation and the ongoing issues with buses. It was amazing to witness the interaction; the residents spoke about inconsistent pickup/dropoff times and how some drivers are just rude, and the administrators actively listened, showed concern, and then stated what they are going to do about it. That was the best part; “Ok, I hear what you are saying, this is what we are going to do to fix it.” And so on Monday and Tuesday, the bus that serves Shadow Wood is going to have a tail, checking to see what is going on with the route. The residents suspected that the bus was going to Savoy to drop off one child first, and then coming all the way back north with a 99% full bus. Having just done that exact route myself, I know it takes a while, and I also know it makes absolutely no sense for a bus serving Garden Hills to go to Savoy first for dropoff (for pickup, yes, sure, it makes sense). The folks from the Transportation Department said that should not be happening. But they are going to check. They also mentioned that one of the buses broke recently (I had this picture of a bus literally breaking in half) which might have accounted for some disruption today. What was really good, also, is that Maria explicitly said that if after Tuesday things are still not good, they should call her or Ileana. It was clear that the residents felt very strongly about this – and so they should! The mothers talked about how they have to drop off their kids and get to work, and if the bus is not consistent, they are sometimes late to work. It was equally clear that the Unit 4 staff were very concerned and want to make sure things are right. And this is what I love about this kind of environment – the residents were being empowered. They were encouraged to use their voice (and they did!).
Next up, Dr. Taylor presented her “Ideology Circle” and tried to squeeze 2 hours of a Social Justice meeting into 5 minutes. 🙂 It was obvious that the residents were not exactly sure what was going on, and Ileana jumped in to help explain a little more. I don’t know if Dr. Taylor’s main objective was met or not. To me, the most important thing is that she is trying to open up that circle in her own ways. In fact, from where I stood, the whole effort of Unit 4 showing up in numbers on a Friday night in a crowded converted mobile home says something in itself; if Dr. Taylor could have perhaps formed a bridge between how Unit 4 wants to hear the voice of Shadow Wood to her Circle, it might have made a little more sense.
Will Kyles chimed in and mentioned the recent Shadow Wood Engagement Workshop hosted by the City of Champaign (flyer). I still cannot find the minutes online, but Will mentioned that they have taken to heart the things Will heard from the first Shadow Wood community forum and started to make plans around those initial points. I loved how Will emphasized the two-prong approach, 1) listening to the voice of the residents, and 2) implementing action steps. It sounds like the City and Neighborhood Services wants to come back to Shadow Wood and see what they can do. (There was also a City meeting on October 19th, but I do not know much about that one at all)
Their was a brief discussion about the Futures Conference and the survey/questionnaire; even though flyers might have been sent home with students, the parents did not indicate any knowledge of it. The possibility of dropping hardcopies of the survey at the management office was tossed about, but… I mean, it’s a privately owned community. Management isn’t going to take that seriously. And even if it is translated into Spanish, the survey needs to be translated into everyday language also (I say that for my own sake). No, what I think would work much better is to have a mini-conference at Shadow Wood. Heck, do it across the street at Human Kinetics. Bring Maria, Ileana, Judith Martinez and/or other Spanish speakers back and focus on the discussions points, fold all the input in with the rest of the work the PE firm is doing. Ileana seemed very receptive to this idea. Now can we convince Dr. Wiegand, Scott Leopold and the Steering Committee? The Board? (I don’t know who ultimately has the reigns – it seems somewhat amorphous to me)
As we drew to a conclusion, Dr. Taylor, Ileana and Maria spoke with a Centennial student and her mother about specific issues, and the residents were encouraged to not give up in addressing their issues with the teacher, the principal and folks at the Mellon Center. Ileana and Maria again put themselves out there as contact people and phone numbers were exchanged. A lot of one-off conversations were going on; a lot of good stuff going on, and I am sure I missed a few things. Not to mention that I obviously few this all through my own lens – it would be enlightening to hear from another perspective as well. All in all, I thought it was a great opportunity for Unit 4 (and the City) to build a trusting relationship with one (among many) important communities. Now I want to do this with other communities. Bryan Yacko mentioned the lack of outreach for the Vietnamese, Laotians etc. It would be so awesome to identify those who have a heart for making bridges and multiply this effort. “Teach a man to fish…”