Mercer University and Community Partners Implement Macon Children’s Promise Neighborhood Plan
In 2011, a $500,000 Promise Neighborhoods planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education brought together more than two dozen groups in Macon, Georgia — including civic groups such as the United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters, schools such as Mercer University and the local public school district, public health institutions, and the city’s transit and housing authorities — to identify the most-needed educational, health, economic, and other interventions in this city of 93,000. The data these stakeholders gathered plainly illustrated the significant challenges facing Macon Children’s Promise Neighborhood (MCPN), an area south of downtown Macon with a population of 10,600. In MCPN’s two target communities, Tindall Heights and Unionville, nearly half of the households lived below the federal poverty level and 63 percent of adults lacked a high school diploma. Students at the neighborhood schools were falling behind. More than a third of students at one of the schools, Ingram-Pye Elementary, did not meet state standards for reading, and more than half failed to meet state standards for math. Only about a third of high school students were graduating. “It was a wake-up call” for the MCPN groups and the community at large, says Mary Alice Morgan, senior vice-provost at Mercer University.
With the Promise Neighborhoods grant, the groups developed common goals to improve student performance and designed evidence-based strategies to achieve them. These goals included ensuring that students are reading at grade level by third grade; increasing the number of students enrolling in and graduating from post-secondary education; and improving the community’s quality of life through improved economic, employment, and job-readiness opportunities. Although the federal government has discontinued additional Promise Neighborhoods implementation grants, the groups are making progress on achieving these goals. “We were determined that this was not a plan that was going to sit on the shelves,” says Morgan.
Filling in the Gaps: the Relationship between Ingram-Pye and Mercer
Some of the most transformative programs directly addressing MCPN’s goals are taking place at Ingram-Pye Elementary School, with 313 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. In 2013, Mercer University’s Tift College of Education began placing all of its student teachers at Ingram-Pye for their teaching practicums. Also as a result of this professional development partnership, Ingram-Pye faculty have gained access to resources at Mercer, including workshops on co-teaching.
The preliminary results of this new program suggest that Ingram-Pye students are benefiting from the student teachers in their classrooms. Third graders in classrooms with student teachers are scoring at least 30 percent higher on state tests in science, math, social studies, and reading than those in classes without student teachers. Although the partnership has not been able to fund new positions identified in the MCPN plan, including liaisons who maintain the relationship between the two schools, faculty at both institutions have taken on these tasks, says Kelly Reffitt, associate dean of the Tift College of Education.
Ingram-Pye students are also boosting their reading skills thanks to Mercer’s service-learning program, which typically sends 50 college students to the elementary school to tutor children in reading. Additional support comes from Leadership Macon, a local civic group that built a playground and a community garden for the school. Teachers use the community garden for lessons in science, math, and reading, says Morgan.
The extra support has improved the elementary students’ skills, and the relationships they have formed with Mercer students give the children at Ingram-Pye valuable exposure to the world beyond their neighborhood, notes Danielle Howard, Ingram Pye’s assistant principal.
Students have benefited from these relationships in other, equally important ways that fulfill MCPN’s plan. For instance, Dr. Quintin Green, Ingram-Pye’s principal, recounts walking the fifth graders up to Mercer, where they toured the campus, ate lunch, met coaches and football players, and visited the labs. This type of experience, says Green, “gets the children into a mindset of, ‘This is a university that I can one day go to.’”
The Tift College of Education also benefits from participation in the program, in that the student teacher placements allow Tift to meet its accreditation requirements. The student teachers, says Reffitt, benefit from being placed as a group in a single school rather than being isolated in different schools across the area. And their exposure to co-teaching at Ingram-Pye makes them especially attractive in the job market, she says.
Two other initiatives for which MCPN laid the groundwork are also getting started during the 2015–2016 school year. A health clinic that opened in September 2015 at Ingram-Pye provides primary care to students and, after school, to the community at large. Green points out that the clinic’s location allows children to return to class after doctor’s appointments rather than staying home, which can negatively affect learning; MCPN’s data show a correlation between the number of missed school days and low graduation rates. Green hopes that the clinic eventually will expand to provide dental and mental health services.
Also underway is the renovation of Ballard-Hudson Junior High School, made possible in part by a $3.11 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia. The grant is also being used to create a dual-enrollment program at the renovated building for vocational training offered by Hutchings College and Career Academy and the Central Georgia Technical College.
Mercer’s commitment to implementing the MCPN plan is just one of the university’s activities as an anchor institution. In recent years, Mercer has invested significant resources in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood adjacent to the campus, which once struggled with disinvestment and blight. Mercer received Community Outreach Partnership Center grants from HUD in 1999 and 2002 that helped the university forge relationships with the civic, business, philanthropic, and public groups that together laid the groundwork for the successful redevelopment of Beall’s Hill. The project’s success reflects Mercer’s approach to fulfilling the goals of Promise Neighborhoods and shows that, once again, the school and the community are united in their efforts to improve the quality of life for all of the city’s residents.
U.S. Department of Education. 2011. “Obama Administration Announces 2011 Promise Neighborhoods Grant Winners,” press release, 19 December. Accessed 12 October 2015; “Macon Children’s Promise Neighborhood Project Narrative.” n.d. Accessed 28 September 2015; Interview with Mary Alice Morgan, 29 September 2015.×
Interview with Mary Alice Morgan, 29 September 2015; “Macon Children’s Promise Neighborhood Project Narrative.” n.d. Accessed 28 September 2015.×
Group interview with Quintin Green, principal, Ingram-Pye Elementary School, and Danielle Howard, assistant principal, Ingram-Pye Elementary School, 6 October 2015; Interview with Kelly Reffitt, associate dean, Tift College of Education, Mercer University, 5 October 2015.×
Document provided by Kelly Reffitt, 5 October 2015; Interview with Kelly Reffitt, 5 October 2015.×
Interview with Mary Alice Morgan, 29 September 2015.×
Group interview with Quintin Green, principal, Ingram-Pye Elementary School, and Danielle Howard, 6 October 2015.×
Group interview with Quintin Green and Danielle Howard, 6 October 2015.×
Interview with Kelly Reffitt, 5 October 2015.×
Interview with Mary Alice Morgan, 29 September 2015; Group interview with Quintin Green and Danielle Howard, 6 October 2015.×
Interview with Mary Alice Morgan, 29 September 2015; Office of the Lieutenant Governor, State of Georgia. 2014. “Lt. Governor Announces Funding for Four New College and Career Academies,” press release, 4 December. Accessed 20 September 2015; Stephanie Hartley. 2014. “District Receives $3.11 Million in Funding for Hutchings College and Career Academy,” press release, 4 December. Accessed 26 October 2015.×
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2015. “Grantee Spotlight: Mercer University Partners to Revitalize Beall’s Hill Neighborhood,” Partners in Progress (May). Accessed 12 October 2015.×