April project update

There’s one less project to provide an update on this month: just last week, research assistant Mike McCarthy delivered a report on the needs of Bristol County Veterans to our client, the Veteran’s Transition House of New Bedford. You can read about Mike’s experience leading that project here, and read his full report on our website.

Here’s the status of our major projects this semester:

1) LifeWork project

Katya recently presented baseline data for two cohorts of women now enrolled in the Women’s Fund of Southeastern MA’s LifeWork Project. These women are working toward degrees at Bristol Community College, getting support from mentors and the LifeWork coordinator, and participating in financial literacy programs, all with the aim of helping them earn a family-sustaining wage upon completion. In addition to organizing all participant data in Salesforce and using its tools to run reports, the UI has surveyed the network of partner organizations about their role in this collaborative effort. We have also surveyed participants to learn about their experiences and needs following a focus group with women in the program.

Currently, the LifeWork coordinator is conducting follow-up assessments to track changes in participants’ lives since the start of the program. We will use that data and data provided by BCC to determine the degree to which one year (or, in the case of the second cohort, one semester) in the program has impacted their outcomes. This reporting will be done in May/June, and will conclude our role in designing and piloting the first year evaluation.

2) Taunton HOPE VI

As Bob has written, our team has just begun the second year of evaluating the process and outcomes of this project on individuals, families, the neighborhood, and the city. Right now, this entails conducting 25 interviews with the same heads of household we interviewed last year to determine the ways in which their lives and those of their household members have changed. Upon the completion of interviews, we’ll begin a series of focus groups with HOPE VI residents as well as community service providers to help inform the degree to which the Taunton Housing Authority can positively impact the lives of its current and former residents.

3) United Way Hunger Commission study

In addition to interviewing folks in Taunton, Bob has coordinated an effort to interview approximately 20 organizations affiliated with the United Way Hunger Commission as part of our effort to help that project track inputs/outputs and learn about the needs of its partners. Interviewing will conclude this month and a report on our findings will be furnished to the United Way in May.

4) Health data hub

Our project to develop a website that aggregates and presents health data for SouthCoast stakeholders has completed. We are now working with project partners to launch the site externally, after which point we’ll begin conducting quarterly updates to the site’s content for the following year.

5) New Bedford Regeneration Committee

As Mayor Mitchell noted in his State of the City address, the Urban Initiative has been engaged to work with MassINC to support the work of the recently formed Regeneration Committee. This committee is comprised of city business leaders who are working to identify short-term economic development priorities for New Bedford. Our role is to record and distill meeting proceedings, integrate data and existing research in the process, and develop a report detailing the findings of this work.

6) Center for Education Innovation at Friends Academy

This project to design and pilot an evaluation for CEI’s programming in New Bedford Public Schools has recently begun with a pre-participation survey of currently engaged teachers. Next, we’ll work with the school department to obtain classroom-level data on student outcomes that we will analyze in conjunction with survey results. All the while, we will be working with CEI staff to develop a long-term evaluation strategy that will help CEI ensure that its programming is improving outcomes for teachers and students alike.

 

Reflections on Research: Bristol County Veterans Needs Assessment

By Michael P. McCarthy, Senior English Undergraduate, Research Assistant, UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative

 

Working at the Urban Initiative has kept my curiosity satisfied. Since I began here last summer, I’ve been able to participate in a variety of projects with different levels of intensity. Whether I was helping edit a report for the Taunton Housing Authority or updating information on a SCUIP page, there was always a new way immerse myself in a foreign subject. I’ve always enjoyed going down the rabbit a hole a little ways if it means I can come back having learned something new about our work or my perception of the world.

When fall began, the Veteran’s Transition House of New Bedford contracted us to assess the needs of local Veterans. Colleen asked me if I’d like to helm the project. I will admit that I was slightly nervous; working for years as a cook, I had gotten used to instant results and taking on a project from the start seemed daunting. But I’m glad I accepted it.

With help from my colleagues here at UI, Katya, Bob, and Colleen, and David Borges from the Center for Policy Analysis, I began to formulate a plan. The Veterans Transition House had defined their service area as the entirety of Bristol County, but when I poked around the VA for information on the cities and towns of the county, I could not find any detailed information – the VA has public data on the county and the Congressional district, which was not updated to reflected Massachusetts’ redistricting. What I did find was a national survey of Veterans and homeless Veterans needs assessment. Keeping in mind one our favorite idioms, “no need to reinvent the wheel,” I adapted the survey to assess the needs of Bristol County Veterans. To me this had two major benefits: first, I didn’t have to design a survey from scratch, and I would have national figures to compare with the local Veteran population.

After Colleen and I piloted the survey during New Bedford’s Veterans’ Day parade, we felt that we were ready to administer it to the greater Veteran population. The roll out was on Thanksgiving. I spent the morning at the transition house packing the surveys in with the 160 or so meals brought local Veterans and their families. Everyone got turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and their own pie – randomized between berry and apple. I learned two important lessons from this day. First, incentives are important; the survey included a raffle entry form and nearly all were returned with a completed form. Also, many people in New Bedford and the area are concerned with improving the lives of our Veterans. So many volunteers showed up to help that most job stations were double staffed. I had two assistants just for handing envelopes to drivers. I went to my family dinner that night wanting to produce a report that would validate all the work being done by the volunteers and staff at the transition house, something that would make their mission easier to complete.

While I waited for the surveys to come back, I began pouring over Census and VA information on Bristol County Veterans. I learned about the VA’s VetPop population model, which predicted a decline in the local population. Comparing these to recent Census figures showed just how accurate the projections are. I hope that we are able to avoid another large spike in combat Veterans and reach the 2040 projection, meaning our Veteran population would have declined by nearly 60 percent.

Another interesting take away from my compilation of secondary data was the Veteran unemployment rates. Before the recession, Bristol County Veterans had a lower unemployment rate than the general population. By 2010, the rate among Veterans had risen nearly four points and was one and half points higher than general unemployment. Searching for an explanation, I happened across the Congressional Joint Economic Committee’s annual report on Veteran employment. I learned that not only are Veterans in Massachusetts disproportionately unemployed at a rate 9.9 percent, but Veterans of the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have unemployment rates more than double their fellow Veterans – 23 percent. For people working to end homelessness among Veterans, like the transition house, this number speaks to the uncertainty facing those returning home from war.

By early March, surveys had begun trickling in from Veteran Service Offices in the cities and towns across the county. Recruiting VSOs to help administer the surveys showed me the importance of engaging with stakeholders in the community. Massachusetts mandates that each municipality have a service officer, or for small towns share one with nearby communities, in order to help Veterans apply for services and receive financial aid for housing, clothing, and food. These VSOs deal directly with the Veteran subpopulation I was hoping to reach with the needs assessment. On average, most of the VSOs I spoke with dealt with around 35 active cases, ranging from Veterans’ widows to homeless young Veterans. To some extend this portion of the research was frustrating, both due to lack of engagement from some partners and low return rate from those able to assist. I reminded myself that all the surveys were voluntary and analyzed the responses. As it turns out, the Veterans surveyed have needs similar their national cohort, and they are most lacking in dental care, perhaps the most complex aspect of the VA medical benefits application process. However, their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter were mostly met.

While I lacked the targeted number of surveys, the database started by the research can be used to further explore the needs of local Veterans. I hope that the Veteran’s Transition House will be able to continue administering the needs assessment and building the database, as it will prove useful as they realign their mission to the changing needs of Veterans. Hopefully, it will also be of use to future researchers and community partners. Now, I’m looking forward to my next project, whatever it may be, so that I can immerse myself in a new world and conduct research to inform people working to strengthen our community and region.

UI Evaluates Public Housing in Taunton, MA

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Assistant

HOPE VI is a public housing program administered by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Under HOPE VI, severely distressed public housing is demolished and redeveloped into new, mixed-use housing that typically is less densely populated. Attempts are also made to better integrate these new developments into adjacent neighborhoods.

A significant challenge for residents occurs as demolition displaces them into other locations or neighborhoods for, at minimum, the amount of time necessary to demolish the antiquated housing in which they lived, and to construct new housing facilities.

When the HOPE VI process was begun at Fairfax Gardens, a public housing site in Taunton, MA that had become notorious for criminal and drug activity, the Urban Initiative was chosen as the independent evaluator of the redevelopment effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

June 4, 2012: Dilapidated, barracks-style housing at Fairfax Gardens, a few days before demolition.

June 4, 2012: Dilapidated, barracks-style housing at Fairfax Gardens, a few days before demolition.

As part of our evaluation, the Urban Initiative was required by HUD to interview a random selection of twenty-five heads of household who formerly resided at Fairfax Gardens, which was overseen by the Taunton Housing Authority (THA). I interviewed most of these heads of household in 2013 to learn about their displacement and relocation issues, which may include concerns about family relationships, integration of relocated residents into new neighborhoods, employment and income issues, material hardships, health issues, and children’s education.

One year later, I am in the midst of a follow-up round of interviews with the same respondents. My colleague, graduate research assistant Katya Starostina, will this year conduct the interviews of Spanish-speaking heads of household.

March 27, 2013: Following demolition and site grading, the first new structures appear on site.

March 27, 2013: Following demolition and site grading, the first new structures appear on site.

Most of the displaced residents were placed by THA in Section 8 housing. This year, many respondents report that they remain in Section 8 apartments. However, there are exceptions: some families have moved back to brand-new units at Fairfax Gardens (now renamed “Bristol Commons”). A few former residents have even successfully transitioned from public to private housing.

While it is too soon to make our data tell the full story of Fairfax Gardens, these photos show the great progress that has been made on the construction site since 2012. It is my hope that this redevelopment effort will result in better outcomes for citizens of Taunton who are challenged by income and housing issues.

April 4, 2014: Residents are returning to well-designed public housing at the renamed "Bristol Commons."

April 4, 2014: Residents are returning to well-designed public housing at the renamed “Bristol Commons.”

Latino Population: An Untapped Resource for New Bedford?

Katya Starostina

Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

On Saturday April 5th, the Lawrence History Center hosted a ‘Symposium on the History of the “New Immigration” Into Lawrence, Massachusetts and Similar Communities.’ At the symposium, many experts came together to discuss the history of immigration, the immigrant experience in Massachusetts, immigrants’ vital role in entrepreneurship and urban revitalization in Gateway Cities, among many other topics.

A number of presenters focused on the experience of Latinos in Massachusetts. While Latinos make up just 9.6 percent of state population, they are more concentrated in Gateway Cities, such as Lawrence (73.8%), Lowell (17.3%), Revere (24.4%), and New Bedford (16.7%).1 Latinos make up an even bigger percentage in the public schools. They comprise as much as 90.2 percent in Lawrence, 36.1 percent in Gateway Cities overall, and 32.8 percent in New Bedford.2 The population is also quickly growing: since 2000, the Latino population grew by 59 percent in New Bedford.

The Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy Publications shared their research at the Symposium. In their 2013 report, Latinos in Massachusetts Selected Areas: New Bedford, the following selected characteristics on Latino population paint a picture worth examining.

Educational attainment_New BedfordNew Bedford’s Latino population has a median age of 24, which is much lower than the median age for the white population (39 years old). Since half of the Hispanic population is under 25, Latino students are disproportionally represented in the New Bedford Public Schools compared to their overall population size. The chart below shows how low education attainment is among Latinos over the age of 25 in New Bedford. More than half (53%) are without a high school diploma.

Jobs_New BedfordMedian Income_New Bedford                                                                      Latinos in New Bedford have a lower labor force participation rate (62%) than Latinos statewide (70%) and a higher unemployment rate (17%) than Latinos statewide (13%). As the chart on the left shows, they are working primarily low-wage jobs, with only 13 percent working in white-color jobs.

As a result, Latinos have the lowest median income ($25,651) of all ethnic groups in New Bedford – much lower than the overall median income in New Bedford ($37,493) and statewide median income ($65,981), as the chart on the right demonstrates. The percentage of Latinos in New Bedford without a medical insurance is double (14%) the rate of uninsured statewide (7%).

chart_2

Since the Latino population is so young (around 20 percent are 18 or under), the public education system can truly make a difference to turn the trend of low education attainment and low-income among Latinos around. However, as I’ve pointed out in my blog post on graduation rates, Hispanic/Latino students and English Language Learners have the lowest rates of graduation.

One-fifth of Latinos in New Bedford (3,190 people) are foreign-born, which presents significant challenges for children in public schools and parents who have to advocate for their children.1 As Helena DaSilva from the Immigrant Assistance Center related at a recent Leadership SouthCoast presentation, there are not sufficient services in place in New Bedford Public Schools for Latino immigrants and English Language Learners (ELLs). Many schools lack basic translation services for students and parents to communicate with teachers in their native language.

This topic was addressed at the Education Vision Forum that the Urban Initiative co-hosted with MassINC on March 28. A successful model of working with ELL students from Brockton Public Schools was discussed, including their Sheltered Instruction and Two-Way Language Program. The Vision presents a number of recommended initiatives, supported by research focused on these efforts, which stand on three pillars: expanded learning time, family engagement, and fostering bi-literacy.

With such a need present, New Bedford is in a position to have a high-impact on a big part of its population by adapting research-based models practiced in other Gateway Cities and schools across the country. It is crucial for New Bedford to harness all its resources in ensuring Latino students are graduating high school college-ready and are highly-skilled for jobs and entrepreneurship in the changing economy. While the challenge is great and stakes are high, cities like Lawrence have demonstrated, in winning the Working Cities Challenge, that it takes a city-wide collaboration across all sectors to successfully meet the needs of students and families.

1Data is from 2012 ACS 5 year-estimates

2Data is from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

March project update

This month, we expect to wrap up two projects: we’ll be producing the final report on Veterans’ needs in the SouthCoast for our partners at the Veteran’s Transition House in New Bedford, and we’ll be launching (softly) the website we’ve developed to serve as a clearinghouse for public health data, resources, and news in greater Fall River and greater New Bedford. We also finalized our first annual report on Taunton’s HOPE VI project; stay tuned for its publication on our website.

We’re also adding a project to our portfolio. Last month, the Center for Education Innovation at Friends Academy reached out to us regarding their interest in evaluating the impact of their programming in New Bedford Public Schools. We’ll be spending the rest of the school year implementing a pilot evaluation of their programming while developing a long-term evaluation plan that will facilitate ongoing assessments of CEI’s process and impact.

In addition to these projects, our team is:

  • working with the United Way of Greater New Bedford to assess process and impact around its Hunger Commission,
  • developing a report on the progress of the LifeWork program of the Women’s Fund of Southeastern MA and fine-tuning LifeWork’s long-term evaluation plan,
  • advising students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s Urban Sociology course in their efforts to conduct applied research in New Bedford, and
  • developing an evaluation plan for the City of New Bedford Health Department’s strategy to improve health insurance coverage among children and families in the city.

We’re also beginning to brainstorm around the theme of our high school internship this summer. Last summer, our interns addressed college access in the SouthCoast. Suggestions are welcome. We’re also looking at our hiring needs, as our two grad assistants–Katya Starostina and Bob Golder–are graduating in May. If you know a UMass Dartmouth undergraduate or graduate student who may be interested in supporting our work, please put them in touch!

Charter Approval and Student Success

Katya Starostina

Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

According to Commissioner Mitchell Chester, The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) prides itself on holding charter schools to a very high standard of excellence and selecting only the highly qualified applicants. Last year, only three out of twenty two applications to open new charters were approved, and this year, only two out of ten received a favorable recommendation. As a result of this stringency, Commissioner Chester noted in this press release that Massachusetts has some of the strongest performing charters schools in the nation. 

In Fall River, several charter school proposals have been denied over the past few years. Last year, Argosy College Charter School did not receive approval from BESE, and the Innovation Academy was denied approval by the School Committee. This year, Innovation Academy reapplied under a new name, New Heights Charter School. It was still denied approval by BESE. Argosy, however, renewed its charter school application, incorporating the feedback from last year. BESE noted that the founders significantly enhanced their leadership capacity and strengthened their overall application. On February 25th, Argosy was recommended for approval. The new charter school will serve 644 students in grades 6-12, starting with 100 6th-graders next school year. As stated on their website, Argosy’s aim is to provide a high quality, small school environment with a seamless transition from middle to high school, focusing on college and career readiness.

The Commissioner also recommended adding 583 new seats to Atlantis Charter School, which currently serves 795 students in grades K-8 in Fall River. This is a unique time for Fall River, where for the first time students will have an alternative choice to Durfee High School. Atlantis will add 106 ninth-grade seats, which will be offered to the school’s current eighth-graders. The recommendation to allow Atlantis Charter School to add seats allows the school to implement its original proposal of a K-12 grade span. In the press release, BESE noted that Atlantis achieved an accountability status of Level 1 in the last two years and exceeded proficiency gap narrowing targets in the low-income and in the high needs student subgroups.

Last year, BESE approved an application from City on a Hill to open a new charter in New Bedford in 2014. City on a Hill has also held Level 1 status and exceeded proficiency gap-narrowing targets in all of its subgroups. According to an article by the Boston Globe, in the last five years, the charter school has had significantly higher ELA, math, and science MCAS results than New Bedford, Boston, and even Massachusetts overall. The original City on a Hill charter was one of the first charter schools approved in Massachusetts and currently has 900 applicants for 90 available seats. Since the very first graduating class of 1998, 100% of City on a Hill graduates have been accepted to college.  Out of its graduates in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available), 83.7% are still enrolled in college, as compared to 62.8% of New Bedford High School 2011 graduates. 

As part of its strategy for achieving success, City on a Hill described in its application that it utilizes the “No Excuses” model widely described in research of effective urban schools, which aims to narrow racial and economic achievement gaps. According to research by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a defining feature of Massachusetts’ successful urban charter schools is their adherence to the “No Excuses” pedagogy, meaning, “emphasizing discipline and comportment, traditional reading and math skills, extended instruction time, and selective teacher hiring.” This model is often criticized for resulting in high retention and attrition rates. City on a Hill has certainly been at the receiving end of this criticism. In his op-ed article, Thomas Davis states that their graduation rates have dropped from 66 percent in 2013 to 53 percent in 2013. In response, James Stevens points out that their 5-year graduation rate is 80.9 percent, and that the school’s success lies in the quality of their graduates rather than the amount of time in which they graduate.

The question we have to then ask ourselves is: ultimately, what are the right indicators of student success? Is it student achievement and college-readiness, or receiving a high school diploma? In a case of a student that is behind academically, is it more important to ensure the student graduates from high school on time, or that he or she graduates college-ready? In Current Issues and Trends in Education, Aldridge and Goldman have found that social promotion is a widespread practice that is problematic for students, teachers, and parents. “Even though this practice is not in the best interest of students, schools, businesses, colleges, or the community, school officials are struggling with how best to eliminate social promotion and at the same time provide manageable, cost-effective programs that promote positive student achievement (p. 137).” In an article by the Boston Globe, the author points out that among other states, Massachusetts is behind on establishing strict policies on social promotion.

On their website, MA Department of Education states that there is a rigorous application process in place to identify charter schools that will lead students to a pathway of success after high school. However, many disagree about what success looks like for students. It is important to consider that at this time, earning a college degree is becoming more and more essential for obtaining employment. Hence, we may need to reexamine what it means for the public education system to prepare its students for success. 

February project update

The Urban Initiative has added another project to our portfolio this month. Yesterday, we kicked off a study of the United Way (of Greater New Bedford) Hunger Commission’s operations and impact that will continue through the semester. We’re excited about this project for a few reasons: it represents our first partnership with the United Way of Greater New Bedford, it’s likely to have a positive impact on the Hunger Commission’s efforts to feed the region’s hungry, and the project is being managed by our second year graduate research assistant, Bob Golder. What that all boils down to is that this project is a perfect fit for our mission. We look forward to providing updates over the next few months.

In addition to this new endeavor, we’re also working on:

  • the evaluation of LifeWork, which continues through the summer;
  • the needs assessment of SouthCoast Veterans, in partnership with the Veteran’s Transition House;
  • the fine-tuning of a website that will serve as a dashboard for the region’s public health community;
  • the development of an evaluation plan for a New Bedford Health Department campaign; and
  • supporting students in Professor Gloria De Sa’s Urban Sociology course in their efforts to conduct community-based research (more on that later).

Jeff McCormick Visits to Discuss the Gateway Cities

Michael McCarthy, Research Assistant, UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative

            This morning, Jeff McCormick, founder of venture capitalist firm Saturn Partners, announced his candidacy for governor in Massachusetts. The announcement comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following the race, and especially not to us at the Urban Initiative. In the mid January, Mr. McCormick visited New Bedford, including a stop at our satellite office at the Quest Center. With a refreshing sense of curiosity, he asked us about the unique challenges facing the SouthCoast Gateway Cities of New Bedford and Fall River, which we cover extensively on our SCUIP page.

Although his background is in financing high tech business ventures around Boston, Mr. McCormick is cognizant that those industries may not take hold in and revive New Bedford, a city with a degree attainment rate less than half the state average (21.1% to 46.7% according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey). To that point, we discussed the true obstacles that are holding back New Bedford – the need for systemic educational reform compassionate to the changing population and the creation of new jobs in the form of small business or skilled labor – and what a governor could do to alleviate them.

Mr. McCormick quickly dismissed the typical political practice of attacking large problems, like those plaguing the Gateway Cities, with a top-down pointed plan. Instead, he recognized that “a perfect plan doesn’t exist” and in order to foster growth in the Gateway Cities a successful government must “treat everything like it’s unique…and acknowledge the nuances of each city.” He outlined addressing the issues facing Massachusetts’ smaller cities with a method similar to investing in a fledgling company with unfamiliar product – go to the experts in that field, listen to what they had to say, and inform himself on the particulars of the situation before implementing an action plan.

In this regard, Mr. McCormick’s approach is familiar to the one favored by our current businessman-turned-governor. This type governance, one that relies on local experts and best practices, will be essential in the next administration if we hope to address the complex issues holding our Gateway Cities back from realizing their true potential as 21st century cities. With that in mind, the Urban Initiative would like to invite all other Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates to visit us and discuss their plans for the future of the Gateway Cities.

Newly Released Graduation Rates

By Katya Starostina

Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

On January 27th, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released graduation and dropout rates for all school districts for the 2012-2013 school year. The state’s four-year graduation rate increased for the seventh consecutive year, with 85 percent of the entire cohort of students who entered 9th grade in 2009 graduating on time four years later (accounting for students who transfer out of or into the district during that time).

For New Bedford and Fall River, graduation rates have been well below the state average and declined the previous school year. This time around, however, the four-year graduation rate in Fall River increased by 5.8 percent and in New Bedford, by 7.2 percent.* This marks a significantly higher percent change than other comparable Gateway Cities such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Brockton. These cities experienced a 1.2, 2.7, and -0.9 percent changes, respectively. According to a post by MassINC, school districts in the state’s Gateway Cities posted an average graduation rate of 75.3 percent, 9.7 percent below the state average.

Improving graduation rates for subgroups has been a priority for the state and specifically Gateway Cities. Over the years, English Language Learners (ELLs), students of color, and low-income students have been graduating at a much lower rate than the rest of the students. In New Bedford, ELLs, whose graduation rate has been on the decline in the last four years, was the most improved of all groups – a 24 percent increase in one year. The graduation rate for Hispanic students increased by 13 percent and the rate for low-income students grew by 5.7 percent.

Image

In Fall River, the group that has seen the biggest decline in the past 4 years has realized the biggest increase this year. The percent change for ELLs is even more significant that in New Bedford – a whopping 54 percent. Graduation rates for Hispanic students increased by 9.2 percent and for low-income students, by 7.6 percent.

 Image

The state has recognized the persistent achievement gaps in the Gateway Cities that disproportionately affect low-income students, ELLs, students of color, and students with disabilities. The FY13 state budget included $3.5 million in new funding to support the implementation of the Gateway Cities Education Agenda, proposed by Governor Deval Patrick. The agenda focused especially on supporting ELLs and increasing career readiness for high school students. 

According to this press release, New Bedford benefited by receiving $40,000 to launch the New Bedford Academy of Engineering within New Bedford High School that will focus on advanced manufacturing, clean energy, health care, and the STEM fields. Fall River received $45,000 to better prepare students for the growing job opportunities in the STEM fields through the creation of the Science, Engineering, and Math Career Academy. Fall River also received $235,000 to create a five-week intensive summer program centered on English language instruction, literacy workshops, and college awareness to help bridge the transition that ELLs face from middle school to high school.  

Governor Patrick proposed an additional investment in education as well to expand access to high quality educational opportunities, totaling approximately $550 million in its first year and increasing to nearly $1 billion annually over the next four years. The proposal includes an additional $20 million to implement all components of the Gateway Cities Education Agenda and increase comprehensive supports to students and their families in Gateway Cities.

In partnership with Gateway City mayors, city managers, and school officials, MassINC recently released The Gateway Cities Vision for Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems. A culmination of a year-long series of planning sessions, this vision highlights effective new models to equip students with the necessary skills required by the changing economy. The Vision will guide a multi-year effort to use data and public education to help Massachusetts make the right investments in Gateway City learning systems.

It is exciting to see all the newly developed strategies and funding that New Bedford and Fall River can take advantage of to improve the public school system. The momentum to boost education in Gateway Cities is building, and more and more key stakeholders are taking part. Join the Urban Initiative for the Opportunity in the Gateway Cities Summit hosted by Teach for America in Lawrence on April 12 to contribute to the conversation. 

* Percent change was calculated by dividing the percentage difference between the two numbers by the first number and multiplying by 100.

Walking With the Homeless

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

Last Wednesday night I walked the streets of New Bedford, bundled in more layers of clothing than I ever wore while working outdoors on fisheries projects in Alaska. The air temperature had plummeted to the low 20s, and the wind chill was bitter for the start of the 2014 Point-in-Time (PIT) Homeless Count, conducted in communities throughout the United States. The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires the number of persons experiencing homelessness (whether sheltered or unsheltered) to be annually counted, and briefly surveyed if possible. Urban Initiative project manager Colleen Dawicki, graduate research assistant Katya Starostina, and I joined more than forty other volunteers who fanned out across New Bedford on January 29-30 to conduct the annual 24-hour count. Carrying clipboards, survey sheets, and backpacks full of warm socks, hats, and canned food, we left our headquarters at the Sister Rose House on Eighth Street, and began to walk the blocks from County Street east toward the downtown district.

Last year in New Bedford, volunteers found 338 homeless persons, 119 of whom were in unsheltered conditions. That number seems likely to rise when all the data are assessed for 2014.

As we walked, Colleen, Katya and I asked passersby whether they had secured housing for the evening. Some people who, judging by their clothes and behavior, seemed likely to be housed – perhaps even likely to own a home – turned out not to have any place to stay that night. I conducted my first interview on Union Street with a young man who I thought was probably an undergraduate student at the downtown Star Store campus of UMass Dartmouth. As I introduced myself to him, I thought I was merely going to get some practice in asking a stranger whether he had housing for the night. I didn’t really expect him to tell me he was homeless, but he did, and I reached for my pencil and a survey form. Like most of the homeless people our group spoke with, the young man was cordial, well-spoken, and willing to be interviewed so that community organizers and government officials might gain a greater awareness and understanding of homelessness in America. We offered him, and the many others we met that night, the contents of our backpacks and a “Street Sheet” brochure, produced by the Homeless Service Providers’ Network, that described available support services.

We wished each individual well and moved on, seeking the next interview, which was never long in coming. As researchers, we were conflicted: was it “good” that we were interviewing so many people and gathering so much information… or was it bad for New Bedford, and the nation, that on a bitterly cold winter night we walked among so many homeless persons, many of whom reported educational attainments or life experiences not dissimilar to our own.

After a few hours, I walked back up the hill toward my comfortable home, while the homeless walked toward an emergency shelter, a church hall, a friend’s apartment with a sofa to lie on, or perhaps a pile of blankets under a bridge.

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