Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A class in every town

by Phil Houseal, as seen in Community Journal (Kerrville TX) & Hill Country Weekly (Boerne TX) Dec 23, 2009

You’ve heard of a chicken in every pot; my Christmas wish is to put a community education program in every town.
Kerrville, you are fortunate having a program like Club Ed. That is not bravado; it is fact. For a town this size, there is probably not another program like it in the state or the country. Two times a year, you receive a catalog of hundreds of interesting and stimulating lifelong learning opportunities, from dance to computers to cooking to karate. This is not magic; the success is because your school district offers it and you support it by signing up for classes and by stepping up to teach.
But you may be surprised to learn there are fewer than 100 such community education programs in Texas. That is less than 10% of the more than 1100 or so school districts in the state that open up their facilities to the tax-paying citizens.
A little history. The concept of community education began in 1935 as a dream of Frank Manley, a physical education teacher in Flint, Michigan. He passionately believed in John Dewey’s philosophy that “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
With funding from the Mott Foundation, Manley led the way for schools to open their doors to the community. What better community center than the schools, which had quality facilities, central locations, and connected all parts of a community?
The concept spread across the country, and became established in Texas in 1971 through the Center of Community Education at Texas A&M. The initiative to place community education programs in towns was at first funded by the legislature, but that funding went away in the late 1980s. Since that time, community education programs are largely self-supporting, using a combination of user fees, grants, and local support.
In the 1990s, the Texas Community Education Association made repeated attempts to acquire funding to start new projects with funding from the legislature and the Texas Education Agency, but appropriations bills failed to get out of conference committee.
So that brings us to the current state of affairs. Community Education programs exist and thrive around the state. San Antonio is a center for the largest programs in the state, at North East and Northside ISDs. Several strong programs exist in the Metroplex, with the remainder based in small and medium sized communities such as Frederickbsurg, New Braunfels, Lake Travis, Dripping Springs, College Station, and Kerrville.
It is also important to note the community education is not just people doing line dances or taking basket weaving (although we have both in Club Ed). Community Education looks different in every community, which is a strength. Some programs focus on offering classes for senior citizens. Others offer more K-12 based programs, including after-school enrichment and extensive summer camps. Others focus on adult literacy and GED classes. That diversity is a strength, because the community education program should reflect the community.
Back to the dream. If you live in a town that does not yet offer community education, please consider taking steps to start one. It does not have to be large, or even based in the school district. One town offered computer classes in a bank’s basement; other towns used local libraries.
Our Club Ed program has taken a small step in this direction by offering “remote” classes in surrounding communities over the years, including in Junction, Bandera, Center Point, and Comfort. Currently we have branches in Boerne and Ingram.
But it is important that every town has a place for a lifelong learning program of its own, to accommodate the community’s needs and reflect the population’s personality.
Because one fact remains the same in every town - learning should never end.


For more information about starting a community education program, visit www.tcea.com or email info@tcea.com. Technical support and small grants are available.

New spring classes are online now. The catalog will be mailed to all hill country homes after Christmas. For information or to sign up, click www.clubed.net, or call 830-895-4386.

Club Ed is the Community Education program of the Kerrville Independent School District. Each year, we offer more than 400 classes throughout the Texas Hill Country, along with online courses, business and individual training, and after-school and summer camps. Comment online at clubedcomments.blogspot.com, or follow us on Twitter @clubedtx.

No comments: