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Network Nights Where partnerships put city students on path to college, careers and success


By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Special to the Times

 Phillip Turner talks with a 'match' during NetWork Night in Collegeville


Cheryl Lewis came to Collegeville Community Center in North Birmingham last Thursday to recruit youngsters for a free arts education program while Hudson K-8 eighth-grader Crystal Brown came to look for ways to combat bullying.

They were among several dozen people who took part in Birmingham Education Foundation’s latest Network Night, which provides a setting for people to confer and make things happen for students.

 “It’s all about relationships,” said Marshall Pollard, director of Community Partnerships at the Ed Foundation. “That’s what drives this Network, because people know each other. Now that they know each other, let’s do something.”

The Ed Foundation, which is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of students in Birmingham City Schools on the path to college, career and life readiness has hosted 28 Network Nights the past few years and they have netted some successes.

One gathering brought the Carver High School symphony together with the Alabama Symphony together. They played a concert together.

 A large group of Latino and Hispanic parents came to another event. They wanted to learn to speak English and the Literacy Council was there; it is now running programs at Tuggle Elementary School for Latino and Hispanic parents.

JW Carpenter charting information

J.W. Carpenter, executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation, said the group wants to insure success for every Birmingham City School students.

That happens, he said, by building a diverse group of people to collaborate and work with students which is the goal of the Network Nights.

“We leverage everyone’s strengths toward that end,” he said.  “Too often, our schools are used to things being done to them and for them. Quite frankly, the leaders that I have met in our schools and surrounding communities right here, they need people to work with them. We want to work with them.”

 “The Ed Foundation isn’t doing any tutoring,” Carpenter said. “We’re not teaching anyone anything. We’re just putting people together to make those things happen.”

Those things include getting a tutor, getting support visiting colleges and support with jobs and life, among other things.

Last week’s event was the first that was not held in a school. Pollard said they brought a space in the network into the Collegeville neighborhood, where residents could walk across the street to attend.

 “Doing it in their neighborhood is their turf and when it’s your turf, you’re more likely to be engaged,” he said.

 Last week, Hudson school student Crystal Brown was part of a discussion about bullying. The 14-year-old said she wanted to help stop people from picking on each other.

The discussion “helped me understand (that) a lot of people get talked about and I really want to help them out and be a part of what they’re going through,” she said, “and try to communicate with them and come together as one.”

Cheryl Lewis, is the director of programs for Space One Eleven, which provides free arts education programs after school or during summer camps. She’s attended a number of Network Nights.

“We met lots of kids who are really interested,” she said.

Last week’s event included discussions on a science camp, Job Corp information, self-respect and respect for others, teen entrepreneurship and middle-schoolers providing homework help for elementary students.

The Ed Foundation doesn’t stop at providing the space for these discussions. It follows up to help things happen, often using partnerships with other organizations.

Carpenter recalled something a community leader told him after experiencing a Network Night.

“‘I’ve been to a lot of community events where the fire burns bright and two days later, you can’t find the ash. This is the first event I’ve ever been to where actions happen.’

“That’s what we’re about,” the executive director said. “All those 28 events, we track attendance, we track membership. But what’s important is what happens as a result and we’ve seen a lot of great things happen.”

The next Network Night is scheduled for Tuesday, April 19, at Ramsay High School, and another on Thursday, April 21, at Carver High.