One Cranston reports success, seeks feedback at CEAB meeting

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At this month’s Cranston Education Advisory Board (CEAB) meeting, the forum was dedicated to hearing from Ayana Crichton, representing the One Cranston Working Cities Challenge group. Crichton updated the group on the recent One Cranston Speak Out, held at the end of February as an opportunity for those in Cranston to come together and have their voices heard, while providing very specific feedback to the One Cranston committee.

“The Working Cities grant is an opportunity from Boston Fed for up to three communities to receive $350,000 to $400,000 each over a period of time to work on initiatives,” said Crichton. “Here in Cranston we are very similar to other Massachusetts cities and towns who have won the grant, including Pittsfield, Springfield and Fitchburg. It is our intent to bring different partnerships in our city together to achieve mutual goals and to ultimately achieve social cohesion. Our group consists of non-profits, private organizations, residents, school representatives, and representatives from the police department. We all get together and meet once per week and we have done four full-day trainings with Boston Fed as well.”

Cranston’s group has already qualified for the first level of the grant, which provided them with $15,000 to put towards the writing and preparation of the next level of the grant. Additionally, Central Falls, East Providence, Providence, Newport and Pawtucket also received the initial grants. 

“Of those cities, we are the only one combating race within our community,” said Crichton. “We are a very diverse community. Part of our focus is making sure that we are celebrating, welcoming and providing equal opportunities and resources for our entire community.”

At the Speak Out, Crichton said the group learned a great deal about what their citizens need, partly through the opportunities for feedback that were provided through stations that participants rotated through, and partly thanks to a survey which the group has launched. However, she said that the survey is in need of both youth feedback and feedback from those on the eastern side of the city and from non-English-speaking residents as well. The survey can be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/OneCranston.

“At the Speak Out we learned that the majority of folks didn’t feel like their culture was celebrated in their neighborhoods at all. We definitely saw confirmation that there is a strong East/West rivalry in the city which is remembered by the older generation as being just a sports rivalry, but has expanded to folks who feel that schools on the western side of the city are taken care of more than the eastern side of the city even though everyone pays the same taxes. Even in the area of neighborhood beautification, residents felt that it differs from the eastern side to the western side, despite all paying equal taxes.”

Crichton said that the responses are leading the group to focus on whether or not this East/West divide is creating less opportunity for the youth in the city or for adults in the city and is it preventing people from moving into the city. She stated that it has since been determined that it is not preventing residents from moving into the city.

However, given the feedback, Crichton asked the group assembled for CEAB to provide their ideas and feedback on the issue of youth opportunities throughout the city as well. As in the results the One Cranston group had gotten previously, the feedback varied from school to school and from neighborhood to neighborhood and questions again arose as to why such a difference in what is offered depending on where the city’s youth live and go to school, why a more standard approach, citywide isn’t in place.

In some instances, organizations were brought in to provide after care and enrichment, such as the ALD program. Schools bus students out to aftercare programs at a select number of daycares such as Miss Leann’s and the YMCA for example, for families who utilize those facilities for after care. In other instances, parent organizations host enrichment classes, Feinstein funding provides funding for after school enrichment, or school staff holds clubs and enrichment opportunities such as homework clubs, robotics clubs, poetry, writing and puzzle clubs. At Gladstone Elementary School and Hugh B. Bain Middle School, 21st Century Funding is used to help provide in-depth before and after school programs for the students there, with summer and vacation camps in place as well, at a very low cost. Ultimately, the question remained as to how to create a more cohesive system for youth opportunity district-wide. Those present at the meeting provided their opinions and ideas to Crichton so that she could bring the feedback to the One Cranston committee.

“The biggest question to be answered is why certain youth opportunities are in certain areas and not all over, and ultimately, who should be responsible for engaging our youth past 5:00 p.m., because we know that after 5:00 p.m. is when the highest amount of situations happen, according to feedback we have received from the police department and the school department,” Crichton said. “The Pastore Center used to be open and utilized until 8:30 p.m., but that is no longer available to us. Transportation is definitely an issue as well, and that is something that frequently came up at the Speak Out. Formerly, there used to be late buses and they would help to transport students home after school, but now students need to find their own transportation.”

Crichton explained that social cohesion in Cranston would strive to take the opportunities and assets that exist in Cranston and make sure that they are available to all youth, as this was one of the primary issues raised at the Speak Out.

“Our residents definitely want it,” she said.

The biggest benefit to the Speak Out, according to Cranston resident and Stadium principal, Cheri Sacco was getting everyone together to have conversations and to the opportunity to have a place to have their voices heard, something that if the grant is realized would be a re-occurring event in the future.

The next CEAB meeting will take place April 3 at 7 p.m. at Cranston High School East in the media center. PHOTOS AND CUTLINES

Taking suggestions and ideas: Ayana Crichton came to the March CEAB meeting to take suggestions and ideas from those present for how to better achieve social cohesion in Cranston, which is the main goal for the One Cranston Working Cities Grant. Crichton is a member of that committee and was a host at the Speak Out event last month. (Herald photo by Jen Cowart)

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