In this post, I will walk you through another project that during the pandemic year has brought us to expand and formally establish ourselves as a network of actors that deal with the education and development of youngsters in the neighbourhood.
As Doposcuola Quarticciolo, and the activist network that surrounds it, we decided to build an “educational community” together with the different actors, cultural institutions and associations that work in and out of the territory.
Why is it important to build an educational community?
An educational community is thought to be an answer to problems of school dropout. Schools by themselves cannot afford to deal with and solve all the educational challenges by themselves; hence, a network of other actors already working in the social-geographical context where the school is located, come into play to provide other fundamental stimuli, answers and activities, to strengthen the link between schools and families, and to sustain a meaningful educational experience for youngsters.
An educational community is built up out of different entities: institutions such as schools, theatres and libraries, universities, research centres, as well as families, cultural and sports associations and activists, who all join their forces and intentions and establish what is called an “educational pact.” In this document, the objectives, strategies, and work modalities of the educational community are outlined. Objectives usually relate to enhancing the participation of young people, increasing awareness over educational issues, creating spaces where the voice of the actors of the community is heard, exchanging practices, building alliances, and undertaking interventions.
In Rome, over the last year several educational communities were born, providing an answer to problems related to the effects of the health crisis on education. Especially in the eastern part of the city and its suburbs, many schools and geographical/political communities have established themselves as “comunità educanti”, collaborating and exchanging good practices amongst them.
Building an Educational Community in Quarticciolo
As Doposcuola Quarticciolo, we decided to be part of a wider network of stakeholders and actors who work for the development and education of young people in the neighbourhood. The “Comunità Educante Quarticciolo” is composed of around 10 entities including an architectural association, volunteering and humanitarian associations, the after-school project, individual school teachers, a scientific dissemination association, sports associations (parkour and boxing) and the library-communal theatre.
These actors were already collaborating occasionally, exchanging small favours and practices, such as organizing food and tablet devices distribution during the lockdown period, and individually providing more cultural, sports or educational stimuli in the area. The actors that compose the educational community in Quarticciolo have often represented a link between schools and families, providing schools with important information on the conditions students live in. However, the relationship and the formal collaboration between them was still to be formalized.
In order to do so, we followed different steps:
- We had an exploratory first meeting in February 2021 to get to know one another better. On this occasion, we shared what the common goals and vision were in a written “manifesto”. Specifically, we shared the aim of making sure no child would be left behind, and that all children and inhabitants in the neighbourhood would have the basic opportunities needed. Another objective was to utilize the public outdoor spaces of the neighbourhood to organize events and activities, thereby transforming the perception of a lower-class neighbourhood to one that has a lot of potential to offer.
- Following this, we proposed a specific project to work collaboratively. We wanted to regenerate an abandoned park and make it safer, usable, and nicer for the inhabitants and the children to live in. In this area, the different stakeholders could organize monthly events and weekly workshops. The idea was that “fighting for the basic rights of having a house does not only mean to have four walls around oneself but also to be able to live in the public space adequately.”
- We had a meeting to share this idea amongst all the different players of the educational community and collect further inputs. We wanted to organize the first “launch event” of the park. This event happened at the end of April, where we cleaned the park and pressured institutions to do so as well. We named the park after “Modesto di Veglia”, a partisan who died in December 2020 and who has dedicated his life towards achieving social justice and working in schools. During that inauguration, we had a morning full of interventions and speeches, dedicated to the commemoration of the resistance day (happening on the 25th of April, when Italy was liberated from the Nazi occupation and fascist regime), followed by a social lunch and workshops happening in parallel. The Parkour sports association built structures in pallet, rubber and steel materials to practise sports. We filled the park with an intense calendar of expositions, music, activities, and laboratories happening simultaneously.
- Following this first successful event, we decided to develop a weekly program of activities happening inside the park. On Mondays, we would have outdoor theatre class for children, Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays were dedicated to sports activities (parkour and boxing lessons), Wednesdays and Saturdays were for free after-school activities, and on Sunday the neighbourhood’s inhabitants had their community meeting.
- Finally, we also decided to have a monthly event where we would invite other associations and actors to participate, opening up space to the outside territory, each time focusing on a different theme. In May, for example, we organized circus laboratories, social soccer, and theatre practices for children, to animate the day.
Challenges faced and future perspectives ahead
Much has been done in five months; a first step in providing a concrete answer and intervention has been our major accomplishment. However, much is still waiting for us ahead. We have asked the municipality to provide permanent electricity, illumination, and water. Institutions should intervene and take on their responsibilities from here on.
Also, building an educational community with actors who are different in nature and who have diverse objectives and ways of working, can represent a challenge. Indeed, being the first time these actors worked together, it was necessary to have regular meetings in order to build common visions and work modalities.
Another objective which we had in mind and which we will need to work on from September onwards is to strengthen the relationship with schools. Indeed, only a few individual teachers participate in the project, but it will be necessary to involve whole school institutions and exchange solutions, participate in mobilizations, and create joint laboratories.
We will continue to work on providing formal training activities for the actors of the educational community to acquire the necessary tools and methodologies to work meaningfully in such contexts. Finally, we will also need to further involve the inhabitants in planning, utilizing interviews, focus groups and participatory research methods in order to make sure that everyone is carefully involved, with their voices and needs being heard.