Left to Right: Kirsten Lodal, CEO LIFT; Bob Gittens, VP Public Affairs, Northeastern University; Actor, S.Epatha Merkerson; Mayor Thomas M. Menino; Maicharia Weir Lytle, Executive Director LIFT-Boston.
For years, educators and politicians have struggled to find solutions to underperformance in urban schools. The common wisdom is to look inside and examine the teachers and curriculum. Surely the only thing that affects learning is what happens inside schools. Right? Not so much. Boston has started a different approach.
About a year and a half ago, Mayor Menino announced the launch of a new program called the Circle of Promise. Looking beyond the classroom, the Circle would coordinate over 140 governmental, community and non-profit organizations to improve neighborhoods with underperforming students. All this is focused on 12 elementary and middle schools within a five-mile area in Dorchester and Roxbury, deemed “turnaroud schools.”
“Understanding that stable income, housing, health and nutrition, childcare and education are all interconnected needs, our goal is to provide families with coordinated and comprehensive ‘wrap-around’ services that ensure children and families are supported in reaching their full potential,” said Menino in a press release. By addressing the needs of the community as a whole, Circle of Promise hopes to eliminate the cycle of poverty and many of the issues that prevent students from succeeding.
Recently, Circle of Promise partnered with the Boston chapter of LIFT, a non-profit that works to “combat poverty and expand opportunity for all people in the United States.” LIFT trains volunteers—locally, they are Northeastern and Lesley College students—to help impoverished people find access to jobs, affordable housing, governmental benefits, education, and many other crucial services. They have already coordinated over 20 organizations that can help students get the support they need.
“I think the city has realized and recognized that families play a large part in [student success] and we have come together in agreement that we need to support the families of these kids, so that they have food on the table, that they have housing, that they have stability in their income so they can provide for their children,” said Maicharia Weir Lytle, the executive director of LIFT Boston.
“At the end of the day, this partnership, it really focused on the kids.”
Founded in 1998 and arriving in Boston in 2001, LIFT now operates in five cities and works to help thousands of families get out of poverty. “While folks are coming in because of joblessness or homelessness, we really take a holistic approach to look at it more comprehensively, because as we know, poverty has many interconnected issues. We want to really look at that from a much higher view,” said Weir Lytle. According to LIFT, over 10 percent of Massachusetts residents lived below the federal poverty threshold in 2009.
In Boston Public Schools, 75.6 percent of students are low-income or impoverished. As a result, 20 percent drop out before graduation, and only 35 percent will go on to earn a degree from an institute of higher education. Research has shown overwhelmingly that children growing up in low-income, impoverished or homeless families will be behind their peers academically, and at a much higher risk of being impoverished themselves in the future.
While this is a great step forward for LIFT and BPS, this does not guarantee the end of underperformance or poverty for these students.
“There are still some systemic things we need to fix,” Weir Lytle told us. “While we work with folks to get housing, there’s still not enough affordable housing out there. If we don’t increase access to living wage jobs or affordable housing, really nothing works. I think we’re a part of the puzzle, we’re not the only solution.”
With the partnership, LIFT is expecting to serve about 1,000 families here in the city, and have the capacity to work with a few hundred more. The biggest benefit they’re gaining from this partnership is increased visibility, which will bring in more people in need of assistance.
If this program is successful, we can certainly expect to see it expanded throughout the city to work with more than just the twelve schools targeted by Menino and others.
“I am optimistic that things are changing, the city is really committed to this, and I’ve seen a lot of work being done already from the people involved,” said Weir Lytle.
“It gives me great hope.”
STORY BY TOM NELSON | @TOMISTWEETING
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON LIFT CALL 617.427.1155, EMAIL BOSTON@LIFTCOMMUNITIES.ORG OR VISIT LIFTCOMMUNITIES.ORG/BOSTON
PHOTO COURTESY OF ELLIOT HANEY.