If there were a city program that annually serves 1,400 children, 200 seniors, hundreds of families and adults with offerings of 1,700 enrichment classes, dozens of exciting day trips per year, many community events and immensely successful summer camp programs serving 900 children, as well as an Arts in the Parks program for hundreds of city children during summer school vacation, all at very little cost to the city per child or adult served, would you consider it a great program worthy of funding? Let me pose another question: Why wouldn’t you want to fund a program that promotes the City Council goals of “fostering community” and “supporting neighborhood vitality” and also meets another council goal to “strengthen and support Human Services … and out-of-school learning,” which community schools do on a greater scale than any other out-of-school-time program or community building program in this city.

This program I am describing is the Community School Program of the Department of Human Service Programs in the City of Cambridge. For forty-three years, community schools have been building neighborhood networks, engaging community members in efforts to improve their neighborhoods and working with other city departments to ensure safe streets and clean parks, connect seniors and families with needed social services and create substance abuse prevention programs for teens. In addition, they have rallied their neighborhoods to provide food and clothing for victims of fire and just for others in need. Community schools, through their neighborhood councils, encourage neighbor-to-neighbor connections, host potlucks and summer outdoor movie programs and other community-building initiatives that help the City Council meet its goal of supporting neighborhood vitality. The community school directors know the people in their neighborhoods and who needs help and who can give it. Some community school directors live in the neighborhood. Neighborhood council members check on seniors in their neighborhoods, know the children on their street and keep a watchful eye on them. Sounds like the good old days in morning in America. It is like life was back in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s in that regard. These community schools and neighborhood councils provide quality after-school programming for our children, summer camp and art programs for children, fun trips for families and seniors and offer enrichment courses for adults.

Any changes made to school locations and configuration affect the community school programs, and because of systemwide changes by the superintendent of Schools and School Committee, our K-8 schools will be shuffling in and out of buildings as buildings are renovated or totally rebuilt. The King School will be moving into the Longfellow school building — home to the Longfellow Community School and Neighborhood Council for decades. The Longfellow Neighborhood Council has long been in existence and over the years has fostered a neighborhood identity unique to Mid-Cambridge. Evidence of the strong community it has built is the recent publication of a great neighborhood history seven years in the making: “From the Heart of Cambridge: A Neighborhood Portrait.” The King Community School and Neighborhood Council are known for their excellent programming, going back decades, and especially for their connection with the less affluent Riverside neighborhood. Their annual Kwanzaa celebration is outstanding and very popular.

But what about the King Community School and Neighborhood Council? What is their fate? Where will the Longfellow Community School and Neighborhood Council call home? Both community schools want to share space in the Longfellow School building and both programs and neighborhood councils want to continue their neighborhood-specific programming. This should happen.

The School Department’s plan for 2012 will create a separate school for the very popular Amigos program. It will be located in the empty school building on Upton Street in Cambridgeport. Since the policy of DHSP is to locate a community school in every elementary school, it is a no-brainer that the Amigos program should have a Community School and Neighborhood Council of its own. This, too, should happen. Please join me in asking our city councillors to support current funding for community schools and to add a program for the Amigos children on Upton Street.

Carolyn Shipley, chairwoman, Citywide Community School Council