It was almost as if neighbors had been waiting for their school to open its doors and invite them in.
Since being tapped in 2015 to help pilot a reimagined community school model — Flint’s Durant-Tuuri-Mott (DTM) Elementary School not only is reaching out to the families of its students, but making a point of extending a welcome to residents in the surrounding neighborhood. And while it’s typical to find more than a hundred children in the building after school and through the early evening hours, adults are beginning to take advantage as well.
Cheryl Tate, a member of the popular “B-Fit Line Dance N2 Fitness” class offered weekly at DTM, “loves the fellowship and the exercise,” as does Judith Nolden, who likes meeting new people and seeing old friends. Andre “Coach” McGee, who works with DTM students during the school day, stays late to attend the class because it’s fun.
“The connection with other people is great, and I get great exercise from dancing. It keeps me going and it keeps me young,” said McGee.
Lynne Teer-Peterson, who teaches the fitness class each week, was confident she could fill a class when she met last summer with DTM’s community school director, Chris Collins.
Collins was looking for ways to bring more neighbors into the school. Connecting residents with students and school staff is known to have many positive benefits — a well-used school generates community pride and ownership, increased security and better rapport all round. Those are among the many reasons why the Mott Foundation has provided $4.5 million over the past three years to implement the reimagined community school initiative in Flint, its home community.
“We want to connect our families and bring them the kinds of activities and services they need,” said Collins. “But you need to get them inside and make them feel welcome here first.”
Sports activities — football, volleyball and basketball — have served as successful “ice-breakers” among parents, neighbors and school staff. It’s easy to fall into conversations while watching a game, says Rod Lenoir, the school’s community health worker.
Adult fitness classes offer that same kind of relaxed surrounding, says Teer-Peterson. A place where people can laugh, get rid of stress and connect with each other.
“We started with a six-week class last summer,” she said. “When we ended, we were all determined to stay together and keep it going.”
Even the cold winter months don’t deter the DTM line dancers. Via word-of-mouth and social media, new members are joining each week. Between 35 and 50 adults now attend class regularly.
Collins has been amazed and grateful for the community’s response to the various programs offered — and for the many organizations willing to bring resources, activities and services into the building after school and in the evenings. Flint’s Crim Fitness Foundation, which is serving as the lead agency in helping the district’s 11 schools implement the community school model, introduced Collins and Teer-Peterson. The Crim has been enormously helpful in making other connections as well, Collins said.
Making his evening rounds, checking the school’s classrooms and gymnasium filled with children, waiting parents and line dancers, Collins is delighted to see the old school alight with activity.
“This all happened so quickly,” he said. Every new partnership has brought the opportunity to broker another, bringing in more services, volunteers and activities that not only support learning during the school day, but help make the school a hub for the community.
“It’s making it easier for us to connect with all our families and help those who might be dealing with specific problems — a house fire, an eviction, an illness,” said Collins. “We want them to benefit from the supports we can provide — and keep them here, in the neighborhood.”