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How can we best focus community attention on education?

By Chris Cobler
Feb. 19, 2012 at 1:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 18, 2012 at 8:19 p.m.


We consider community leadership to be an important part of our role as your Advocate.

First and foremost, we provide leadership through news coverage that informs the community. We also do this with our Viewpoints page editorials, by inviting people to write guest columns and letters, and by reaching out in a variety of other ways to get people involved in making a difference.

Recently, a group of us met to talk about how we might launch a new public service effort focused on education. We have the opportunity to apply for $1,000 in grant money to help fund the project, although we agree this is a worthy project regardless of whether our application is accepted.

The first step, though, is a big one: How do we best focus a project on such a broad topic?

During our meeting, we discussed the broad goal: to focus the community's attention on the importance of education. Although many people have varying ways of measuring success, we agree our community will be better off if more students do better and go further with their education.

We recognize the Victoria school district faces many challenges with about 65 percent of all students classified as economically disadvantaged. We also see education as intrinsically linked to the economic health of our community. If we have a more educated population, we will have fewer young people living near the poverty line.

Many of these economically disadvantaged students lack the support needed to succeed in school. We talked about a few mentoring programs that have had success and brainstormed ways a newspaper project could spotlight these and attract even more volunteers to the efforts. Our project would be wildly successful if everyone in the community felt a sense of obligation to help just one student.

People might debate the level of importance placed on standardized test scores, but we would expect our project to result in improvement in the latest state results of only 67 percent passing. We also would want to see the percentage of Victorians with a bachelor's degree grow from 11.8 percent to closer to the national average of 19.4 percent.

We also brainstormed ideas for the project with members of our Hispanic reader advisory board. As we talked, the parts of the conversation that resonated the loudest were individual stories of educational success. These stories could inspire others and serve as a guide for what works.

To capture and publicize them, we propose scheduling a series of community forums in the neighborhoods where our targeted students live. We would want to go to them and their parents and form partnerships with the schools, churches and other organizations already working on the issue. We would work hard to create a comfortable setting rather than stage one big town hall meeting that might scare away those we're trying to reach. We also would have resources available there for people seeking help.

In these forums, we would have a few speakers prepared to share their stories and invite audience members to come forward and talk. Of course, we would report on these stories in print and online. On our website, we could present video clips of these stories on a specially designed page and keep the conversation going.

We certainly don't pretend to be the experts or have all of the answers to this complicated issue. However, we recognize the newspaper has the ability to galvanize community attention and agree this is the most important public service project we could take on. We welcome your suggestions about how to further shape the project and invite all interested to get involved during these initial stages.

If you want to talk, please call me at my office at 361-574-1271. We also welcome you to the Advocate Internet Cafe, 311 E. Constitution St., to chat in person. I'm working there from 9 to 10 a.m. weekdays. We also encourage you to visit our weekly editorial board meetings at 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays. These sessions also are in the Internet Cafe and broadcast at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

Chris Cobler is the editor of the Victoria Advocate. He also may be reached at ccobler@vicad.com.

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