We are into the first year of our Elm City Believes initiative seeking to support the young people who receive housing supports through ECC/HANH to achieve academic support. Although it may seem self-evident that this partnership between housing and education is necessary, this collaboration has not and does not occur consistently in any coordinated way throughout this country. In beginning our initiative, our goal was simple. It was borne of a love for our young people—their energy, their potential, their spirit. It was borne of our belief in equity and opportunity. It was borne out of a desire to create pathways to move families into the middle class. And it was borne out of the belief that if our children are adequately prepared, appropriately supported, given access to quality educational resources and supports and mentored and guided that they will achieve academic success and will launch into adulthood prepared to be self sufficient.
And so we developed a local model delivered by the housing authority. A model that combines access to early childhood programs, academic support, parental support and postsecondary opportunities with strong partnerships with the school children attend. And we engaged partners. Partners that were eager to join forces, and to date we are jointly engaged with New Haven Public Schools, Common Ground Charter High School, ACES Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet and Booker T. Washington Charter Elementary School. And we engaged students and families. We were pleased to find that families and students were eager to partner with their housing provider in order to support children’s educational goals. And we began to talk about it and collaborate with other public housing providers across the nation to find that there were burgeoning efforts in a handful of agencies to work in a similar manner. But despite the obvious nature of this partnership, it does not happen often and has not been facilitated by state and federal policy priorities.
But there is a movement afoot to change this and we are at the forefront of that movement—a movement to break down silos between housing and education to best serve the needs of our country’s lowest income children.
Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of the City of New Haven’s youth academic achievement initiative, known as Elm City Believes! (originally called HANH Believes!) caught national attention this week as we were featured presenters at the Inaugural CLPHA Education Summit held in Washington, DC on February 26-27, 2015. Representing ECC/HANH was Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton, Board Chair and Executive Director of ConnCAT Erik Clemons, Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries, Executive Director of Common Ground Charter High School Lizanne Cox and ECC Education Policy Director Emily Byrne.
This first ever gathering hosted by the Council of Large Public Authorities (CLPHA) and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brought together housing providers and educational professionals around the organizing frame that “every child deserves access to stable housing and a quality education to improve their life outcomes.” Partners in the Summit included CLPHA, ASCEND at the Aspen Institute, the Center for American Progress, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute.
As a prelude to the Summit, ECC/HANH was one of three housing authorities (along with Akron, OH and Vancouver, WA) to be selected to be part of a case study conducted by the Urban Institute. A draft of the case study was previewed at the Summit and is expected to be widely released in the Spring of 2015. These three sites were highlighted during the opening panel at the CLPHA Education Summit. ED DuBois-Walton and Superintendent Harries engaged the audience around the New Haven model and helped to shape the national conversation around how housing and education can best collaborate to meet the needs of our shared students.
In New Haven we are clear that our success is intrinsically linked. Our 7,000 students represent approximately 30% of the NHPS student population. Closing the achievement gap for our low income students is a crucial component of school reform efforts. And graduating students who are ready for postsecondary opportunities allows us to break cycles of poverty for our families. At ECC/HANH we are in the business of providing housing and opportunity for low-income families for the long term. However, rather than serving multiple generations of the same families, let’s break the cycle for our current families and provide needed housing resources to other families. Partnerships such as this go a long way toward solving this problem nationally.