OneWorld paid tribute to St. Louis-area organizations taking a different, community-centric approach to education Tuesday April 1. Titled “Innovative Education Outside the Classroom” and held as part of Atlas Week, the event invited leaders and students from various after-school programs to talk about their work. The event featured presentations by the Jonesville Youth and Family Center, Sunflower Project STL, Readers 2 Leaders, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Angel Baked Cookies and Sweet Sensations.
Carla Jones the work of Angel Baked Cookies, a business that employs high school students at a bakery. ABC is a part of North Grand Neighborhood Services, a community outreach organization. During a neighborhood meeting, teenaged residents told the group that in order to succeed they needed jobs where transportation wasn’t an issue and that didn’t require that they drop out of high school. The solution was ABC. According to Jones, the most valuable part of the program is that it gives an opportunity for reflection and discussion everyday.
“It’s a time for teens to really be teens. It’s a time to talk about what’s bothering them, what’s on their mind… and sort of get it out and talk about ways to fix those problems,” Carla Jones said.
In an effort to connect communities with vastly different residents, the Readers 2 Leaders program invited eighth graders from the 100 percent black De La Salle Middle School in north St. Louis to teach black history to third graders at the 97 percent Caucasian St. Gabriel Elementary School in South City. The program was started by Bryan Sokol, the director of the Center for Service and Community Engagement, and was put on for the first time this year. Each De La Salle student read stories about Black History Month to students from St. Gabriel. Students said the experience was positive.
“They moved from what Dr. Cornell West has sometimes described as being color blind to being color embracing,” Sokol said.
Another north St. Louis community project, Sunflower Project STL began with the intention of taking an abandoned urban lot and planting sunflowers and wheat there in order to increase the health of the soil and turn the land into an asset. The group bought a block of land in the Old North neighborhood, home to Crown Candy, and started to plant crops. In the winter after the first planting, Sunflower Project collaborated with Ames and Mason schools to create flags inscribed with African symbols that embody things like diversity, earth and energy. They then put the flags up all around the lot in a statement of art and culture.
“It became this great bright spot in Old North neighborhood,” Reilly said of the scene the following spring when all of the sunflowers had bloomed. The group worked with the students and other members of the surrounding community again that spring/summer to till the land. The project is still at work in the neighborhood.