The learning and sharing that begins at a Community Learning Exchange has a life far beyond just one weekend. Participants take the experiences and lessons from the CLE and bring them back to their communities. Each place has its own unique history and its own set of strengths and challenges, so leaders must ask the question, “How can we use what we’ve learned to make change here at home?”
The latest CLE, "Looking Back to Move Forward": Leading for School, Family and Community Healing, which was sponsored by the Bay and Paul Foundations and theWK Kellogg Foundation, kept this focus on place and purpose throughout the weekend. Hear more about the gathering through the voices of some of the organizers.
The Franklinton Center at Bricks, the location for the Northeast North Carolina CLE
We have always known that place matters to our work in CLE's. However, we did not expect the powerful feelings that would emerge from the African-American CLE participants when they set foot on a space that is filled with historical trauma. We found many participants were uneasy with staying on the site of a former plantation-- a plantation renown for "breaking" trouble slaves or captured runaways. This contention could have gone bad quickly, but the convening kicked off with an historical overview of this place and our opening concluded with a ceremony where participants could vocally honor their ancestors that were themselves slaves.
Then throughout our CLE we contented to understand and honor the history and the place including re-enacting walks on portions of the Freedom Trail, singing songs of freedom, and learning with community elders who were the local protesters 50 years ago. Finally, the cotton fields that surrounded the plantation were in full bloom-- a constant reminder that not long ago the hospitality at the site was very different.
Cheryl Fields participates in a site visit at a cotton field.
It was powerful seeing how all of the site visits affected participants emotionally and make them want to go back and make change in own community. There was one young leader at a site visit in a setting in a rural area - in the middle of cotton fields. She realized the significance of what these fields were to her ancestors, and realized what people in her past did to make it possible for her to be where she is today and to do this kind of work.
I planned the Rocky Mountain site visit. The structure of the site visits is that we start out with guiding questions, and questions lead to outcomes. We wanted site visits to be more than just a field trip and emphasize place-based learning. For all groups, the idea is to go back with a plan and do a mini CLE at home. The hope is that by looking at what we did, they can take and plan a one-day site visit and CLE.
Site visits are not new to CLE's. However, we constructed four site visits that were designed as "mini-CLE's." As such, we wanted to avoid being site voyeurs. Rather, each site visit had powerful, interactive learning experience such as song and story. One member of the host team set up and practiced the site visits to insure they would be powerful learning experiences for participants AND site members.
Matt Militello leads a group of CLE participants.
We have always worked to include youth in our CLE's. This CLE had five intergenerational teams that were within families. Two fathers brought their sons, and three mothers brought their sons. This brought a new dynamic to the gathering that we believe has a potency for learning within and across families. This experience will certainly become a new guidepost in our work.
We asked national and local participants to come in teams that consisted of: a school leader, a community leader, university designee, and a youth (middle or high school). We were flexible with some teams, but having an expectation of who to bring allowed us to plan for using affinity groups in various ways. More importantly, this provided diversity in voices that would represent each site.
The biggest takeaway I hoped that our participants would gain from this experience was a focused passion for doing the work. Our theme for the CLE, Sankofa, addressed the importance of looking to the past for information to help drive moves for the future. Acknowledging that each area has its own wounds that affect its people is only the first step. The CLE provides a method for beginning those conversations with people whose readiness must consistently be assessed and acknowledged in order to keep the conversation going.