SMU and the Dallas Faith Communities Coalition have created a new partnership dedicated to transforming education in low-income neighborhoods. The coalition now is part of the Center on Communities and Education in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
The center will initially focus on West Dallas, an impoverished area west of downtown where just 33 percent of residents over the age of 18 have high school diplomas. However, the intent is to establish a far-reaching model to impact other communities locally and nationally.
The partnership is a natural step for the coalition created in 2004 to develop solutions to poverty, says former coalition executive director Regina Nippert, now executive director of SMU’s Center on Communities and Education. In 2008 the coalition narrowed its focus to West Dallas schools. The partnership with the Simmons School provides new educational resources for West Dallas children.
“Our goal remains the same,” Nippert says. “Close the education gap in West Dallas by building a thriving education ecosystem – an integrated network of high-performing schools and nonprofits that together weave a safety net so tight that kids can’t fall through the cracks on their way to a college-ready education.”
SMU’s Center on Communities and Education is the backbone organization for the School Zone, which supports collaboration between 10 West Dallas public schools and 20 nonprofit agencies. The School Zone provides:
- Parent training and early childhood development programs
- In-school programs such as college readiness and teacher training
- After-school homework assistance, college awareness, mentoring and arts programming
Creating successful schools is key to fighting area poverty, says David Chard, the Leon Simmons Endowed Dean of the Simmons School. Through SMU faculty research, as well as student service learning, internships and work-study programs, Simmons School resources can support student progress in West Dallas schools as well as provide opportunities to SMU students and researchers.
“We have great respect for the families, educators and community organizations in West Dallas, and we intend to learn much from them,” Chard says. “Their insights will shape our work in the Simmons School.”
Written by Nancy George