Over the years there have been many connections between UMass (students, faculty and staff) and the Amherst Pelham Public Schools (ARPS). Considering the curricular connections, these have often been partnerships between a given faculty member and a teacher or two in the Amherst Schools. Frequently these are wonderful partnerships, sometimes spanning years. Not infrequently however, the partnership ends when one instructor or the other leaves, or is unable to continue on. When this happens the great work that has been developed over the years often vanishes.
The other limitation of these one to one partnerhsips is that there is generally not a strategic plan that conencts various efforts to leverage them for an impact that is greater than the sum of its parts.
It hasn’t always been clear, or easy to understand, how to enter into these existing relationships or how to move the more conprehensive aspects of the partnership forward.
In 2010, Superintendent Maria Geryk, connected with Five Colleges Inc, initiated a Five Colleges Advisory group and I was invited to participate. Over months of getting to know various participants from UMass and the other colleges, as well as key people from the school department, it became obvious to many of us that a number of partnerships existed between the schools and UMass, but that the various UMass partners did not know much about what the others were involved with at the schools. Often there was no awareness, and hence no connection, between their work at all. This was not particularly surprising since UMass is a large university with several different colleges and many departments within those colleges. It is a city within itself.
In order to increase awareness and make connections, I worked with the Superintendent’s Office to plan a Campus-Community Partnership Mapping Meeting. With over 40 people in attendance, including school administrators, principals and department heads, as well as University administrators, faculty, staff and students, we mapped partnerships that currently exist, brainstormed ideas for potential partnerships and prioritized those opportunities. In the months since, we have used that information to explore and initiate new ways to partner, including targeting some macro level goals around diversity and issues of racism, classism and the achievement gap.
During the summer of 2012, UMass CESL has an AmeriCorps Summer Associate partnered part-time with the Amhert Superintendent’s Office to help us move the partnership forward. During the 2012-2013 Acadmeic Year one of the UMass CESL VISTA members will be partnered with them as well. As we work together to deepen and extend our partnership, it will be exciting to see where the next year takes us.