Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist
Seattle University will lift Bailey Gatzert School achievement through youth initiative
Editorial Page Editor Ryan Blethen writes about Seattle University's embrace of its neighbor, Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. Seattle U's Youth Initiative is aimed at helping prepare students in the community for success.
Times editorial page editor
Education reform has been a hot topic for decades. There have been education governors, education mayors, education senators and education representatives.
There have been national and local movements and laws aimed at improving schools. I could not tell you if our schools have improved. The data is overwhelming and could be interpreted to support an opinion either way.
While the experts battle about the hiring and firing of teachers, charter schools and other ways to improve education, Seattle University is doing something that will improve the education kids receive at one Seattle elementary school.
The Jesuit university cradled between Capitol and First hills is significantly expanding its relationship with neighboring Bailey Gatzert Elementary.
For 20 years, Seattle University has provided tutoring for Bailey Gatzert students, 94 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. Now the university will be spending $1 million a year on a Youth Initiative project that will envelope the 100-block area Bailey Gatzert serves, an area defined by East Cherry Street, James Street, South Dearborn Street and 23rd Avenue South.
The program is modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, which provides health and school programs for students and parents in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.
The Youth Initiative will continue tutoring and tap into the university's many areas of expertise like law and nursing to provide free legal aid and health assistance. The program will also include Washington Middle School and Garfield High School, the two schools Bailey Gatzert students go on to attend.
The approach is holistic, which makes sense coming from a Jesuit university. The Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg calls it a "cradle to college" program.
In an editorial board meeting last week, Father Sundborg said he wanted to create a community-service program for students that had an academic component.
"How do you make an education stick?" he asked. His answer was to integrate Seattle University into its neighborhood. A neighborhood that struggles with poverty and high crime rates. Quite a contrast to a university that costs more than $20,000 a year to attend.
Another motivation of Sundborg's was Tent City 3. Seattle University hosted it in 2005. He was impressed with how the call to help others galvanized the university. That experience helped drive the Youth Initiative process.
Sundborg hopes that the program becomes a part of the university, something that will stay with students and the neighborhood.
Seattle Public Schools and Bailey Gatzert were receptive to the idea and welcome the collaboration.
Greg Imel, Bailey Gatzert's principal, said, "I've always thought, as an educator, that higher-learning institutions should do more with public schools."
The need for politics to play a role in education reform is real. As important are what communities can do to create schools that allow children to succeed. That is just what Seattle University's Youth Initiative will do: Prepare Bailey Gatzert's students for success.
Ryan Blethen's column appears on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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