Showing up for Akron

Kirstin Toth \
July 25, 2017

Showing up is just the start, but we need to start somewhere. Sometimes we have to start, or restart with a clearer vision in mind. I think of this when I think about the exciting opportunities that lie ahead for Akron and especially our children in Akron Public Schools.

Showing up is the important first starting point in change in any endeavor. It seems simple, but there are often barriers to just simply showing up.  Attendance matters to our children in schools, for parents in engagement and connection outreach, and for our community and business members. I was recently reading an article that discussed the effects of structural or systemic reforms as applied to school buildings- what we know in Akron as the community school model. This is why APS’ new buildings, rebuilt in part by residents’ financial commitments, are called Community Learning Centers. The idea is that schools should be used as hubs of learning that incorporate Out of School Time activities and social support services for families year-round, and, long past a typical school day, every day.

The report pointed to the varied effects of applying wrap-around social services within a school building that support learners coming from poverty. The one consistent positive outcome across the board was the effect on attendance- on showing up to school. Attendance is the first thing that responds positively to systems reforms. And that’s more than half the battle for our kids; understanding the value of being present.

This idea of systems change or reform is certainly not new, and now more and more philanthropic supports are shifting in this direction. GAR is no exception in sharing our vision and goals across the community for a more holistic, systemic solutions-seeking approach. Other organizations, especially United Way of Summit County, are also embracing this systems approach, evident in their bold goals focused on kids’ reading and graduation objectives.

Supporting the improvement of systems requires us all to show up and be committed to thinking both more expansively about where each of us has a role to play that is mutually reinforcing, but also being willing to show up with the common goal in mind. This requires a new way of operating for many of us, perhaps requiring us to incorporate how our broader community betterment goals can be embedded as our own individual organizational goals. This broad systems-view of the world also requires patience, cooperation, and trust-building across existing organizations like the education sector, the business community and civic leaders.

Happily, the propensity to do this well abounds in Akron, especially at this opportune moment in our community where leaders continue to “show up”, coming together to build relationships one at a time.

We are heartened and lucky that key sector supporters like Summit Education Initiative, ConxusNEO and ArtsNow undergird the very foundation of systems-change in the segments that mark a smarter, stronger, and more vibrant Akron. When asked, please show up the next time you see an opportunity to improve our community. Your attendance and engagement matters!

Photo: Shane Wynn | Akron Stock