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SCHOOLS AS CENTERS OF COMMUNITY: KnowledgeWorks Begins National Search for Excellence

In the next five years, school districts across the country will spend more than $120 billion to build thousands of new facilities. According to the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, if these new schools are planned and designed with the community in mind, they will not only reflect the democratic aspirations of the American people that all children receive an excellent education, but will also serve as community learning centers for decades to come.

In Schools as Centers of Community: Citizen’s Guide for Planning and Design, the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities and KnowledgeWorks present a systematic planning approach that can result in the successful development of schools as centers of communities. It outlines basic principles for designing such schools and case studies of successful projects.

For example, Gaylord High School in Michigan serves twelve hundred students in grades 9-12, but also houses a daycare facility, community healthcare clinics, and higher education classes. The school’s performing arts center serves the entire community. As a result, students interact daily with a broad range of community members and the Gaylord community has developed a strong vested interest in its school.

As part of School Building Week (April 19-23), KnowledgeWorks launched a national search for excellent schools that capture the growing trend to build schools as centers of community. A selection committee comprised of former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Coalition for Community Schools Executive Director Martin J. Blank, and other experts in the fields of school design, school/community partnerships, and community development will review entries in the National Search for Excellence. These schools will join the foundation’s Schools as Centers of Community Honor Society, and one school among them will be selected to receive the KnowledgeWorks Foundation’s Award for Excellence, and be given a $5,000 grant.

Entries will be accepted through July 23, 2004. The announcement of the Honor Society and the Award for Excellence will occur at the KnowledgeWorks Foundation’s annual conference on September 28.

For more information on selection criteria and directions for entering, visit

Many Students Need Alternative Pathways to Finishing School: Successful JAG and YouthBuild Programs Target Out-of-School Youth and At-Risk High School Students


Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) works to provide at-risk high school students with classroom and work-based learning experiences that enable them to obtain a quality job, leading to a career after their graduation or completion of a GED. Typically, the program achieves a 90 percent graduation rate among its participants. Among program graduates, 80 percent are employed, attending a postsecondary institution, or have become member of the military.

JAG currently has twenty-seven chartered state organizations that work with more than eight hundred high schools, alternative schools, community colleges, and middle schools across the country. The JAG Model is a highly accountable program that provides work-based learning experiences that will lead to career advancement opportunities or enrollment in a postsecondary institution. At the same time, JAG uses several support structures to ensure that participants stay in school, including a student-led Career Association for members to develop, practice, and refine their personal, leadership, and career skills.

While the original JAG Model applications served high school seniors only, it has since grown to include a dropout-prevention program application that works with students in grades 9-12, and a dropout-recovery program application that serves young people who have left the traditional school system and enrolled in an alternative school or a community-college based program leading to a high school diploma or GED.

To learn more about Jobs for America’s Graduates, visit

In two hundred YouthBuild programs across the nation, unemployed young Americans aged sixteen to twenty-four are rebuilding their lives as they rebuild their communities. An example of a successful alternative pathway to college and success, YouthBuild alternates weeks of traditional classes with weeks of onsite construction training for a nine- to twelve-month period. For participants, the program is a way to resume their education with the goal of receiving a high school diploma while also benefiting from training, education, counseling, and leadership development. For the community, YouthBuild translates into much-needed affordable homes for the homeless or low-income families. Over the past ten years, more than forty thousand YouthBuild participants have built more than twelve thousand housing units in their neighborhoods.

YouthBuild combines the features of many successful programs-integration of academic skills with vocational training, small classes that provide one-on-one attention, and post-program training. Successful participants receive references and recommendations for future employment. In 2001, 84 percent of the participants entered the program without a GED or diploma and 90 percent were from low-income families. More than three-quarters of the participants are high school dropouts. At the time of their entrance into the program, participants read at the seventh-grade level, on average. YouthBuild has a graduation rate of approximately 59 percent, and almost 82 percent of participants who successfully completed the academic program were placed in jobs or college after graduation.

The academic program is designed to prepare students for a high school equivalency exam, at minimum. Program participants alternate a week of classes with a week of onsite construction training. With this format, the program integrates academic skills such as reading, writing, and math with more general “life skills” such as leadership development, civic education, and money management.

In the early 1990s, Rep. Major Owens (D-NY) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) introduced legislation that resulted in the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992’s “Hope for Youth: YouthBuild.” Since then, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded YouthBuild grants and contracts totaling more than $400 million. In fiscal 2003, Congress appropriated $60 million to HUD’s YouthBuild program and HUD awarded 106 grants.

More information on YouthBuild is available at


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