The key to transforming Liberty City is getting parents involved in their kids’ education.
That’s the message the Urban League of Greater Miami shared Thursday night at a kickoff event for the We Rise Education Village, a coordinated effort to help neighborhood children do better in school.
“We’re talking about transforming the behavior of the entire village, focusing on education,” said T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami. “We believe if the parents get excited about education, then they will excite those children about education. If the children get excited about education, then they will perform better at the school. If they do better at school, the whole village will turn around.”
The Urban League has brought together a coalition of nonprofits, churches and education institutions, including the Miami-Dade school district, to support the efforts of Liberty City’s 13 schools. The plan includes workshops for parents, including programs sponsored by the Miami-Dade school district’s Parent Academy, and support services for children.
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The Education Village “includes all of the elements that make sense,” said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “There are many people out there trying to change schools and transform schools and improve schools, but without changing what’s done in the school and the support outside the school, more than likely it will be a failure.”
The effort is also aimed at changing the physical landscape in the area between 27th Avenue and Interstate 95 from 46th Street north to 73rd Street.
“We cannot allow [children] to step outside their door into a cesspool,” Fair said. “We have to also change the physical environment that the children play in, walk to school in, etc.”
The Urban League is working with the City of Miami to tear down “crack houses” and build affordable housing, Fair said. The City of Miami has so far contributed $500,000 to the effort to rebuild Liberty City.
“At least we gave the community a symbol, a hope,” said Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who spoke at Thursday’s event. “Trying to get their trust back, trying to say, ‘Government does not always forget Liberty City.’ ”
The first phase of a new affordable housing project with 150 units will be completed by the end of July, Fair said. The ultimate goal is to have 500 units available for residents, including units for teachers and other school employees struggling with the high cost of living in Miami-Dade.
The Education Village is an idea that has been in the works for the past two years, but Thursday’s rollout comes on the heels of a new state education law that will provide financial incentives for charter schools to set up in mostly low-income areas, encouraging them to compete with struggling neighborhood schools.
Some of Liberty City’s 13 schools have gotten D’s and F’s in recent years, school grades that are determined by student performance on standardized tests, graduation rates and other factors. That means some of the area schools could meet the criteria for the “Schools of Hope” program established by the new state law.
Fair said that in his view, the key to improving education in the area is recognizing that the solutions need to come from residents, not outside groups. “I believe there’s nothing in Liberty City that we cannot resolve ourselves,” he said.