Study sheds light on the relationship between CY and Peabody Elementary
By Sarah Bogdewiecz
You’ve probably seen me in your neighborhood knocking on doors, passing out flyers, asking you to complete surveys or to sit down for a cup of coffee to talk about school. Over the past eight months I’ve been speaking to residents about their thoughts on public education options for their children, in their neighborhood and throughout Memphis. I’ve learned that Cooper-Young parents want the best possible education for their children and want to consider all of their options – the latter being a privilege that many others in Memphis do not have. But why look at educational options for elementary school outside of Cooper-Young? This was one of the questions the Cooper-Young Parent’s Network (CYPN) asked me to investigate. Armed with tape recorders, surveys, and some fantastic volunteers, we collected data to help shed some light on this issue.
We learned that Cooper-Young residents love their neighborhood and the sense of identity it embodies. Residents expressed strong feeling of commitment to the neighborhood, boasted strong activist and engaged identities, and spoke highly of their close-knit ties to neighbors. As an informant explained, “I think there’s an idealism [in Cooper-Young], where people feel like if something needs to be done, then they can do it and that there are other people around them that will help.” Why not use these great attitudes to forge a stronger relationship between Cooper-Young and Peabody Elementary?
The CYPN and I also learned that a possible explanation for the overall current disconnect between the Cooper-Young neighborhood and Peabody stems from a dislike with the perceived large-scale bureaucracy within Memphis City Schools (MCS). This generalization can be a deterring factor in community participation in MCS that extends to Peabody Elementary by default. Furthermore, Cooper-Young families that had attempted partnerships with the school in the past were met with obstacles from the administration.
On a positive note, we learned that residents perceived many benefits to Peabody and desire more community involvement in the school, something that the current administration at Peabody wants too. Residents expressed that the major benefit Peabody offers is that it has a stellar optional program within walking distance. We also learned that Peabody is extremely affordable, has a diverse student and family population, fosters ties to the community, has quality teachers and staff, small class sizes, and good parental involvement.
So, with all of these benefits, how can Cooper-Young make Peabody a community school? The simple answer is by establishing opportunities for community engagement with the school. Doing this can lead residents to rethink the role that Peabody can play within their neighborhood. Residents expressed some recommendations for ways individuals and community groups can create sustainable partnerships with Peabody that include: develop a relationship between the Cooper-Young Community Association and the Rozelle-Annesdale Community Development Corporation (because both neighborhoods belong to Peabody’s school zone), hold more informal community gatherings at Peabody to draw all members of Cooper-Young into the school, increase the presence of student work in Cooper-Young in order to see all the great things Peabody students do, localize aspects of the curriculum to include things that need done around the neighborhood, and develop a community vision statement for Peabody aimed at finding the best ways for the community to serve its children’s educational needs.
Community-school building may seem like an overwhelming task, but when a diverse community can come together and agree to find ways to best educate their children, it becomes unified under a common productive purpose. Rather than focusing on deficits that all communities have, finding ways to incorporate individual, family, organizational, and institutional assets is key for successful community-school building – and Cooper-Young is just the community to do it!
Sarah Bogdewiecz is a Masters of Arts candidate in Applied Anthropology at the University of Memphis. For the full report and a community-school building resource guide, please email her at email@example.com.