On the second floor of Cambridge City hall, the room filled up with presenters, community members and public officials. I was getting ready to present my work along with three other program leaders about our strategies on community outreach. We were gathered for the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Art and Celebrations Committee meeting on the topic of community outreach.
It was exciting and nerve-wracking to be sitting side by side with so many truly great education leaders discussing these ideas. You could feel that this type of gathering had the potential to help maximize engagement and equity for all of the community. After brief introductions from Councillor Mazen, the presentations began.
First up was Bio Builder, a foundation that concentrates on creating STEM focused curriculum and teacher professional development. The program revolves around the concept of synthetic biology, which is the idea of adding engineering principles and techniques to biology. Krista Licata and Rebekah Ravgiala talked about the way the program works and how students are responding to it. They also spoke about how part of the process of biobuilder is to reach out to teachers directly to get them engaged in the program. Biobuilder offers lesson and activities for both students and teachers, as a set of synthetic biology experiments. From playing games with senses to learning about yeast and bread, there are many opportunities for young budding scientist to explore.
Inner city weightlifting, introduced by Jon Feinman, is a nonprofit that started in Boston and recently opened a new site in Kendall Square. They work with at risk young adults who may have had trouble with the law either in their past or present. By helping program participants to become personal trainers, the program aims to provide both a safe environment and a job opportunity in the community. Jon, co-founder of the organization, presented on their approach to outreach, their successes so far, and their plans for the future. Not only do the most at risk and court-involved youth get respect, a good wage, and a supportive community, they also see incredible networking opportunities through the Inner City Weightlifting personal training client base. Many are executives and tech professionals, looking for ways to get trainers involved in other types of careers outside of training. Contact Inner City Weightlifting here if you would be interested in helping.
Next was my time to shine, but I’ll get into those details after elaborating on the last presenter, the Agenda for Children. They do so much for the community ranging from professional development for OST workers to workshops that build a community of practice. Susan Richards, co-director of the program, spoke about the experiences of the upper school OST liaisons connecting middle school students with the vast opportunities in Cambridge. By being located directly in schools and building relationships with students, teachers, and families; the liaison were able to make great strides in strengthening OST involvement. You can read more about The Agenda for Children’s awesome work here.
As for my presentation, I was excited to share all the work I had been doing within the community since the start of the new year. I updated the room on my project model: connecting Cambridge families to Out of School Time opportunities. I described my approach of working with teachers to identify families that had limited access to OST programs.
I then spoke about my experiences working with families and shared some insight on challenges families face. For example, many of the program applications were difficult for ESL families to complete, which may have prevented students’ participation in those said programs. Also, transportation to programs and dissemination of information tended to be some of the other problems facing families. In addition, both teachers and families mentioned how crucial it was to have an actual person in place, that is able to meet them wherever necessary to accomplish this work. Finally I summarized these observations, experiences, and methods with goals and strategies for the starting school year in the fall.
We concluded the presentations with a Q&A open to the audience. I must say this catalyzed some great dialogue between the presenters and those in attendance. One audience member suggested using parents as a resource for program information, which I definitely want to implement in the future. Another part of this Q&A session touched on why it is so important for street outreach and meeting youth and families where they are, and how that help improves the success of access to the community.
All in all, this meeting created a forum to learn about some incredible community efforts and allowed us to garner feedback from Cambridge employees and residents. For me personally this meetings was a first great step in my work as well. The reason I am passionate about my job, is it gives me a chance to do something helpful to those in our community that need it most. I plan to be thinking about how we can feasibly take my efforts and scale it so it has a wider reach throughout the city.
However, this kind of expansion and improvement, for not only my projects but all Cambridge projects, needs meetings like this that includes the feedback of the community to really benefit Cambridge. This will hopefully be one of many meetings that will continue to educate us and improve Cambridge outreach programs. If you have any ideas on programs or outreach approaches that should be shared in future meetings, please contact either myself at Jake@nadeemtron.com or Councillor Mazen at firstname.lastname@example.org