Last week Secretary Arne Duncan took his Listening and Learning Tour to Orlando, Florida, where he visited a very unusual school: NorthLake Park Community School.
Located in the NorthLake Park Community at Lake Nona, this school represents a 10-year partnership between the YMCA and the public school system. The school and the Y are in the same state-of-the-art facility. The Y is the school, and the school is the Y. The school is the civic and physical focal point of the NorthLake Park Community.
The developer of the community had the original vision and led in organizing the partnership with the Orlando County Schools, the Central Florida YMCA, and the City of Orlando.
Secretary Duncan was given a tour of the facility and then had the opportunity to hear from a number of key stakeholders about the power of the collaboration in terms of promoting student learning and the well-being of families and the larger community. The president of the Central Florida YMCA facilitated the conversation. There were testimonials from the developer, the mayor, the superintendent of schools, the principal, a teacher, a parent, and a student. The student was particularly powerful in contrasting her experiences at 3 other elementary schools with the Northlake Park Community School, especially in how much more integrated her life felt at the Northlake Park Community School.
After the testimonials, the approximately 100 people in attendance had an opportunity to offer their own thoughts to Secretary Duncan as well as ask him questions.
The Secretary congratulated the community and all of the partners for their remarkable achievement and asked how this could be replicated in other communities, what are the major barriers that need to be overcome. People responded that getting the money on the front end for such a facility was a challenge and that getting different institutions to work together was also a significant challenge.
Participants did not, however, see these challenges as insurmountable. They felt that the effort was well worth it and that the partnership had made a profound difference in their community and in the lives of their children.