Middletown Public Schools Aligned with MGCC’s Mission
Middletown Public Schools have a new superintendent, Dr. Mike Conner, and he has just unveiled “Middletown 2021: Keys to Innovation & Equity,” laying out MPS’s “strategic goals” for 2018-2021. Middletown Green Community Center plans to be a central force in the community that makes sure Dr. Conner’s goals are achieved. We will work directly with the teachers, parents, and the superintendent to drive forward the process of “unlocking the potential in all students.”
MGCC’s founder, Jeff Hush, has observed Dr. Mike Conner, the new superintendent of MPS, in many settings over the past year: leading his team at City government hearings, speaking at a church, at 2 NAACP events, at a private party, and leading “community conversations” in schools across Middletown. Dr. Conner has a large number of supporters in our town, and he deserves all the support he can get. He is doing a very impressive job and bringing progressive ideas to Middletown that could fundamentally change the experience and success of our children and youth. He could be a force that helps to change the direction of a generation here, but only if he has powerful and ongoing support from many stakeholders in the larger community, not just in the school system. This is the kind of support MGCC can bring him and bring our children.
Dr. Conner has come to Middletown, has been given a mandate by Mayor Dan Drew and the Common Council, and has been asked to shake up our schools so that “equity” and “innovation” can finally overcome the lethargy that has held so many people back. He has made a fine start on this project of renewal. His larger goal of trying to lessen a large number of gaps in our education system (between those who already-have power-and-wealth and those who don’t) is admirable. The City of Middletown—its mayor and its Common Council—must realize, however, that Dr. Conner and MPS cannot succeed in this work alone. There are two other institutions in this town that can drive forward broad-based community improvement—Russell Library and the Middletown Green Community Center (MGCC). Both of our organizations need to be able to pull our own weight, in order for the new superintendent to do his work.
It is, therefore, in the interest of the City of Middletown to vote for and support MGCC by giving us 51 Green Street for a lease of $1 per year, for at least 10 years. With MGCC in his corner, Dr. Conner and his team will have a far better chance of bringing about real change and dynamic positive growth for the children and families of Middletown. It’s up to you, Middletown government officials, to invest in your city by helping us create a national model of success, in partnership with the Middletown Green Community Center.
Reading over “Middletown 2021,” one is struck by how closely MPS’s goals and those of MGCC line up. These 19 alignments are laid out below with quotes and page numbers from the MPS document included.
- Personalized learning “for all students, despite academic dexterity or level” (p. 3): MGCC will offer mentoring/classes for all ages of students in our three spheres—health, technology and the arts—and our more personalized work with students, unlike what’s possible in a large public school classroom, will spur students to find out what they really love and what they want to do. Careers based on true interest lead to much better health and success in the lives of our students. MGCC will be an especially productive partner with MPS because the students we inspire will go back into their public school classrooms to inspire other students to be disciplined, to be creative, and to innovate. Our MGCC students will serve as “Education Ambassadors” in the public school system, building needed pride in academic and artistic achievement. MGCC will focus particularly on two groups of students: a. those with the “highest needs” (who have “discipline” and “absenteeism” issues); b. those who have already shown the most talent, enthusiasm or discipline and who need to work with professional leaders (like our Board members, practicing artists, tech and health experts) to get the kind of real-world mentoring opportunities unavailable in schools.
- “Creating relevant family/community partnerships” (p.3): MGCC and our partners like Close the Gap and NEAT work daily in the community with families having troubles with eviction, incarceration, homelessness, trauma, domestic violence, addiction, and food insecurity. We work to lessen the impact of these “social determinants of health” which exacerbate the “achievement” and “opportunity gaps” holding back nearly 50% of Middletown students, who fall primarily in the low-income, Latinx and black households, where racial and income disparities hold so many people back. Also, a key dimension of our “positive proximity” model at MGCC is that our youth from both low-income and middle-income families will study and practice together, helping to cement the bonds of our community. This will help overcome the lack, in most parts of the US, of the opportunities that never make it to our low-income children because they are available only to those with money. Also, children in moneyed families rarely interact with or become friends with low-income youth.
- “Innovation to meet economic and societal trends” (p. 3): MGCC will be the local “innovation hub” for STEAM and other nationally recognized tech programs, and we will help MPS teachers to find and implement the best practices, not just in America, but from international sources. MGCC Board members have extensive professional experience in Europe, Africa, and Asia. One of our ongoing supporters/advisors, for the past year, has been Yu Miyabe, who taught Japanese at Wesleyan University. She is now back in Osaka teaching English at a Japanese high school. She will link up curious Middletown students with their fellow students in Japan by Skype.
- “Students are the constructors of their own learning” (p. 3): MGCC’s overriding mission is to develop “agency” in Middletown’s students so they can guide their own growth. We do this by giving them opportunities to try out many fields and practices in our three spheres. When a student discovers what she loves to do, she finds a “purpose” in life; this leads, after many hours of dedicated practice, to the creation of a resilient “identity”; this positive identity is then hungry to give back to the larger “community,” to serve other people. All this positive energy and work leads less fortunate students forward, helping all of us to grow and thrive, creating a virtuous spiral that bends the arc of history toward equity.
- “Phase III . . . Align community assets/resources with strategic plan goals and strategies” (p. 5): MGCC will be the single most important nonprofit community partner for MPS as all the public schools serve our children and parents. MGCC’s resources, which will be drawn from the largest and richest national foundations and Tech corporations, will be dedicated to serving Middletown residents, especially those with low incomes (the ALICE population which is 36% of our people). Those resources will not be squandered paying exorbitant salaries to our administrators. This is a direct promise from our Founder and President, Jeff Hush. MGCC’s Board of Directors fully complies with his wishes on this.
- “In order to implement the plan to fidelity, mindsets and mental models must be aligned for coherence” (p. 6): Since MGCC will be the “innovation hub” for educational programming in our three key spheres, we can help the Superintendent to bring the “mindsets” of other community leaders, teachers and parents into alignment with our shared goals of “innovation, equity, and continuous improvement.”
- “Goal 1 . . . Close the preparation, opportunity and performance gaps” between different groups of students, such as “white students and students of color” or “students from higher-income and lower-income households” or “high needs students and non-high needs students” (pp. 8, 16, 21): MGCC is a community center, with its roots in Middletown’s historically poorest neighborhood, the North End, where our largest social issues reside: eviction, incarceration, addiction, and violence. Many of our Board members live there, so they experience these problems daily, and know what solutions work locally. Everything MGCC does is about closing these “gaps,” and that’s why one of our key partners in 51 Green Street is “Close the Gap,” a volunteer mentoring service in Math and Vocabulary (SAT Prep and College readiness), which is also the strongest advocate in town to move low-income black, Latinx and immigrant children onto the Advanced Math track in MPS, so these children have a chance at college.
- “Opportunity gap refers to the ways in which race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, community wealth, familial situations [i.e., single-parent homes] . . . contribute to or perpetuate lower educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment for certain groups of students” (p. 22): The contributing factors laid out here—and how they create gaps in “achievement”—have been covered in #7 (our previous point of convergence between MPS and MGCC). Let’s be real. MGCC does not have magical powers, and we cannot simply wave away, with a magical wand, centuries of historical neglect and abuse that have driven certain populations in America to the bottom of our society. But here’s what we can do—what we will do. We are already focusing on buttressing the “aspirations, achievement and attainment” for those students left behind the others for generations. We are doing this through our method (which is our “theory of action” and “theory of change”): we train people in three broad-based educational spheres, a) to spark interest and enthusiasm in individual students so that b) each student finds something (a “purpose”) she/he loves and then, through that love of some field or practice, finds the discipline to improve (building “identity”) so that c) her/his life can be satisfying and, d) out of this sense of “purpose” and “identity,” the “community” benefits—all of us benefit. MGCC is a center that builds living community.
- “Goal 2 . . . Develop a broad community of stakeholders” (p. 8): MGCC has already assembled this “broad community of stakeholders”; they are clearly evident in the composition of our Board, in our central group of partners for the building at 51 Green St, in our external advisory councils in Health, Technology and the Arts, in our supporters at Wesleyan and in City government and on the streets of Middletown. By working with MGCC, the Superintendent has access to the eyes, ears and voices of Middletown’s many demographic groups.
- “Goal 1.1 . . . Increase rigor and relevance” (p. 10): A) There’s no better way to increase the “rigor” of the teaching than by increasing the students’ interest in the subject at hand; if they’re interested, they want more complex and rigorous work, because they want their skills to be at a level comparable with other leading students and with the level expected in real world careers. B) There’s no better way to increase the “relevance” of the teaching than by linking up that teaching to real world results (career building based on the direct concerns of the students themselves). C) MGCC is all about “rigor and relevance.” That’s what we do; that’s why we exist. That’s why each and every one of our Board members is excited about helping MPS students succeed in the real economy by developing 21st Century skills.
- “Goal 1.6 . . . Expand High School Options [through] equitable access to personalized pathways [which are called] . . . pocket pathways [which are] . . . educational experiences . . . that occur outside of . . . school buildings, such as internships, apprenticeships, independent research projects, online classes, travel, community-service projects” (pp. 10, 23): MGCC is the best-placed organization in town—because of its university, business and community affiliations—to provide this kind of robust “pocket pathways” program that both the children and their parents will trust and that will lead to real career opportunities in our three spheres: health, technology and the arts. Because MGCC is based in equity, our pocket pathways programs will avoid the failings that doom the huge majority of such programs to irrelevance because either a) low-income students cannot afford to participate or b) only low-income students participate, thereby isolating them in segregated programs that reinforce the neighborhood and wealth segregation they already suffer under, and isolating them further with contact from the middle- and upper-income children whose parents hold all the power/resources/job opportunities in America. Such income-segregated programs lead these children into a false sense of accomplishment, which never translates into real-world results. MGCC is all about “real-world results,” and that’s why our programs are constructed to avoid both of these failings.
- “Goal 1.8 . . . Ensure all students are Algebra-ready by Grade 8” (p. 11): MGCC’s partner in 51 Green Street, Close the Gap, has worked in Middletown for years to “ensure” that all students—black, Latinx and immigrant especially—have the math skills necessary to enter college. We are proud to partner with Close the Gap as they tutor under-resourced children in math and vocabulary. We are especially impressed by the advocacy work they have done, and are doing, to “ensure” that the Advanced Math track in MPS is not closed to children of color.
- “Goal 1.9 . . . Access to the Arts . . . enhanced fine arts opportunities for all students” (p. 11): MGCC is committed to providing arts programming for no fee, to the poorest children. One of our partners, MAC 650, is a cooperative of many artists on Main Street in the North End. These artists, as well as several of our Board members, and many Wesleyan professors are professional artists, in many disciplines, and will work directly with local youth to help them build their own individual voices. MGCC has recently started up a new program called “Middletown Green Open Door”—and Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts provides MGOD with free tickets to expensive campus performances so that local youth and their community mentors and parents have access to the heights and depths of culture. MGCC is committed to equity not just in health and technology, but also in the arts. The conversations we foster between professional artists and our youth (following these sponsored performances) will bring two huge benefits to Middletown: a) some youth will see a path open up to a career in the arts, whether on the creative side or the technical support side; b) these youth who participate in STEAM programs will learn the real meaning of vague terms like “creativity” and “innovation” because they will either practice an art form or get to investigate how it’s made by speaking with real artists.
- “Goal 2.10. Meal Services . . . Improve . . . customer service, nutritional quality and access to meals [in cafeterias]” (p. 13): MGCC has already been influential in creating, with Sustainable CT, a “Food Policy Council” in Middletown. Our Board’s Health Sphere leaders—Dr. Kalinowski, R. Hedrick and Hush—helped create this council, along with other physicians, nurses and chefs affiliated with MGCC. The Food Policy Council’s first action is to work with a group of Macdonough School parents (and a NEAT leader) to create a pilot program that improves the food at that school. From there, we plan to improve the nutritional profile of all MPS cafeterias.
- “Goal 3.3. Creation of at STEM academy” (p. 14): MGCC’s Technology sphere, with its central focus on STEAM and on building a Maker’s Space and computer lab in 51 Green Street, will help MPS to understand how important it is to integrate the Arts (“A”) into its STEM program to create STEAM. This is the current cutting-edge direction internationally—and it is crucial that new STEM programs become STEAM so their students can develop the “creativity” and “innovation” skills that come once you program real arts back into your science and math educational models. The real world demands innovation, not just barren algorithms and rote coding. We want better career opportunities for our hardest working students and that demands the inclusion of the “A” in STEAM.
- “Goal 3.4. Creation of an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School . . . To develop internationally minded people who [recognize their] . . . shared guardianship of the planet” (pp. 14, 22): Several of MGCC’s Board members and many of our Wesleyan alumni supporters have spent their lives working and living and making art around the world. We are an incredible resource for both the teachers and students at such an IB program. MGCC will be developing international programming, and environmental programming in our Health sphere, which will be open to all Middletown students, regardless of their ability to pay, which is almost unheard of in programs that involve international travel. Here’s one example of an MGCC international program, which is already in the start-up phase. Joan Hedrick, our Pulitzer-prize-winning Board member, has just returned from Sicily—the first step abroad in our research for this new program, “The Sicilian Food Project.” It is an extremely powerful and rare program because it includes all three spheres: health, technology and the arts. It also has a profound local dimension, linking up Middletown with its origin village in Sicily, Mellili (thousands of Middletown’s residents derive from this one village and started coming here in 1892). It starts with the food (gardening and foraging) native to an indigenous village diet among the Sicilian poor (“la cucina povera”). It then looks closely at the culinary arts and how the Sicilian cuisine transformed as it moved forward in two dimensions—time, from 1890 to the present; space, from Sicily to Middletown. This takes us into health, studying the “migration effect,” which shows that as people move further away from their indigenous diets, they become sicker. In the US, at present, the diseases most strongly correlated with this “effect” and most closely linked with industrial food choices and rushed modern lifestyles are heart disease and type 2 diabetes. To successfully analyze the health issues here, we need several types of data analysis and statistical programming (technology sphere) to pick apart the health disparities between village Sicilians (much healthier than Middletown’s Sicilians, especially the poorer they are and the closer they stick to a nineteenth-century indigenous diet) and modern Sicilian-Americans in Middletown. Our overall goal is to write a scientific paper showing the relationship between food culture, indigenous lifestyle and health (with the central focus on the different per capita rates of type 2 diabetes in CT and Sicily). Jeff Hush and Rachel Hedrick created this Sicilian Food Project as part of famtusa.org (Food & Movement Therapy). It will be one of the food/health programs highlighted at the “Food & Movement Therapy Day” at Russell Library on Sunday October 28 (noon to 5pm). Hush and Hedrick are very happy to be working now at MGCC with Dr. Mike Kalinowski, with his Blue Zones experience, a new dimension to be added to SFP. MGCC believes in creative partnerships, in searching the world over for the truth, and in driving innovations in health by looking closely at the wisdom of human cultural traditions (part of the Blue Zones philosophy as well), especially among the poorest and healthiest populations in the world.
- “Goal 3.5. Creation of Quad D Learning Laboratories . . . [where] students have the competence to think in complex ways and apply knowledge and skills they have acquired [“adaptation”]. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, students are able to use extensive knowledge and skill to create solutions and take action” (pp. 14, 23): Imagine a high school student, or even an ambitious middle-schooler, who gets the opportunity to participate in the discussions and problem-solving central to MGCC’s “Sicilian Food Project” (see previous section, #16). This student—we want to involve several students, including some from Wesleyan and from Middlesex Community College—would have a life-changing opportunity to participate in a scientific study that delivers practical advice for everyone and that profoundly interweaves three knowledge spheres often mistakenly defined as separate: health, technology and the arts. MGCC will build cohorts of researchers—intergenerational teams from our leaders and retired experts and physicians/nurses to college students, high school students, and very disciplined middle-schoolers—because our philosophy centers on how we make our community thrive, and we believe this is done through intergenerational partnerships, so all ages come to respect the strengths of the others. These student participants in MGCC’s learning lab (in partnership with MPS, if the superintendent wishes to join us) would have a profound experience of seeing how the real world works, and of how the standard academic insistence on keeping disciplines segregated from each other, on policing those disciplinary borders, is not applicable in the real work that is “creative” and “innovative” and which changes the world for the better. Students need to learn as young as possible that the thinkers and doers who succeed in America are exactly the ones who cross borders all the time. Success comes from movement, not from rigidity. Both MGCC and Quad D know this and practice it.
- “Goal 3.7. Student Voice. Provide resources, tools, and structures that empower students in their own learning behaviors to strengthen positive relationships with adults” (p. 14): MGCC is building a space and programs where the voices of children and youth are given equal weight to those of the adults teaching and mentoring them. How often does that happen in a real world institution and in schools? Almost never, for the huge majority of adults are afraid to cede their authority to young people. Young people feel this and so they reject the older people’s forms of authority, and they start to disrespect older people in general. It doesn’t need to be like this—if student voices are respected and valued from the beginning of any teaching/learning encounter. When, however, a rare institution is created, like MGCC, under the leadership of an incredibly diverse Board (not just in gender, race, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, but also in income levels and ages), and that institution really listens to its youngest participants, those participants trust the adults around them. This is what MGCC does; this is why we exist. We will also be helping the parents in our community to learn to listen to their children like this.
- “Goal 4.4. Wellness” (p. 15): Three of MGCC’s leaders—Hush, Kalinowski and R. Hedrick—eat and breathe wellness. They have taken their own lives as opportunities to build health through personal lifestyle practices (instead of through drug-enhanced medical experiments like the huge majority of Americans). They teach the importance of four lifestyle factors in building health: food, movement, relaxation techniques, and community engagement (not being isolated). For Dr. Kalinowski—who gave up his medical practice to “change the world” by promoting the health-giving principles uncovered through years of research by National Geographic scientists in its Blue Zones project—“wellness” is about learning to apply scientific principles derived from human culture. For Hedrick—who has been healing people for more than 20 years as a macrobiotic chef, a massage therapist, and a clinical yoga teacher—“wellness” is about continuous improvement of your skills by listening closely to the needs of each new person you heal. For Hush—who started his own healing journey at age 15 in 1973 by learning meditation—“wellness” is about using his training as a Medical Historian (UC Berkeley and the Univ. of Chicago: 1985-1994) to challenge the lies spread by the US Medical Industrial Complex, so that American patients, one by one, can come to see that health derives from specific lifestyle practices and not from pills. If MPS are serious about “wellness” for their “staff, teachers, and students,” they should come to MGCC to design specific programs based on their needs and on age-appropriate models. MGCC, through its external Health Advisory Council, works with progressive physicians, nurses, organic farmers, chefs, and advocates around the US, to craft real health for real people. We use Functional Medicine—health care that works and is based on the rights and consent and agency of the patients—instead of the standard Drug-Based Medicine that has brought America two debilitating and totally unnecessary epidemics: the Opioid crisis and the Type 2 Diabetes fiasco.
Appendix C: Years 1-3 Operating Budgets and Capital Budget for MGCC
Appendix D: Support Letters for MGCC
FROM: Michael Harris, Deborah Cain, Gail Thompson-Allen, The Church of the Holy Trinity, Judy Omphroy, Brendan Smith (Sunlight Solar Energy, providing a plan to put solar array on roof of 51 Green Street), and Andy Dykas (Close the Gap)