The “Building Resilient Communities” Project, developed in the OSU College of Education, is working to make a significant and lasting impact on one local community while creating a blueprint for future partnerships.
From Concept to Reality
“I had the idea to leverage the resources and expertise of faculty and students at OSU to help a high-poverty community address its challenges,” says counseling psychology professor John Romans.
In 2014, Romans approached colleagues Hugh Crethar (counseling) and Julie Croff (health education and promotion) about a pilot project. Fae Frederick, a doctoral student in the counseling psychology program and Tonya Hammer, another counseling faculty member, joined the group.
School administration professor Ed Harris suggested visiting with Josh Sumrall, a doctoral student in the school administration program who is the superintendent for Coyle Public Schools. Located about 20 miles west of Stillwater in Logan County, the school district serves Coyle, Meridian and Langston in a high-poverty area with roughly 300 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Sumrall welcomed the assistance.
Beginning the Work
The OSU team met with school district personnel to discuss a list of initial targets that would benefit the school and community — parental education and involvement, health initiatives, job and entrepreneurial training, after-school programs, electives such as art, music and drama and more.
The group is conducting a community needs assessment and developing a town hall discussion with community leaders and residents to ask for feedback.
“These (projects) will help us gather data to better serve the community,” Frederick says. “We want to fill gaps identified by community members.”
Like many districts, Coyle is challenged with low funding and large class sizes, Sumrall says. Just one counselor serves all of its students. She is also the district’s testing coordinator and handles college preparation, guiding students through admission and scholarship applications and more.
To assist the counselor, Crethar, an associate professor in the College of Education’s counseling program, assigned two interns from the community counseling master’s program to work with her 20 hours a week as part of a practicum experience.
“Guidance lessons for the K-12 students have gone from one time a month to now once a week. Those lessons have been targeted to meet both academic and career needs,” Crethar says.
The OSU interns also created small groups to cover study skills, organization and students’ concerns. In addition, a career fair was developed for the high school grades that do not have to take standardized tests. The counseling interns’ impact will be evaluated as part of the project’s research.
The school’s foundation raised funds to construct a greenhouse. The OSU team includes Jon Ramsey (agricultural education), who is consulting with Coyle’s agricultural teacher, OSU graduate Bailey Platt. The team received funding from Whole Foods to sustain and further the garden initiative. Food grown in the garden could be sold to the community or used by the school cafeteria, Sumrall says. The food source could be tremendously important to an area that lacks grocery stores and restaurants.
Efforts are also being made to help Coyle upgrade its technology. About five years ago, Coyle became a one-to-one laptop district for grades seven through 12. Susan Stansberry and Toby Brown with the education technology program have made recommendations about replacement devices and identified grant opportunities to help cover the cost.
The team partnered with volunteers from Alpha Phi Omega, which hosted a career day for sixth- through eighth-graders and sponsored a Black History Month Art Show to increase recognition of African-American culture in the school.
A new parent-teacher taskforce is working to create and run a family/school connection initiative that will begin this fall. Significant grant funding is also being sought to support after-school programming in health education, robotics, Spanish, art and music as well as additional tutoring, mentoring and support groups.
Charting the Course
Members of the OSU team and Sumrall meet regularly to discuss progress and make plans. The “roundtable discussions” have proven to be great brainstorming sessions.
What started with a core of faculty members in the College of Education has expanded to include colleagues from the Colleges of Human Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and Engineering, Architecture and Technology.
Tamara Mix from Sociology is consulting on the needs assessment with the help of a graduate student from her department. College of Education grants specialist Tim Schlais is lending his expertise as well.
The project uses community-based participatory research models to design and evaluate initiatives and outcomes. Data will be gathered continuously to develop guidelines for future partnerships as well as provide outcomes that can be used to apply for funding to sustain, further and create new initiatives.
Initiatives require the support and participation of community members to ensure they can be sustained with or without OSU support.
“The partnership is meant to foster the communities’ sense of togetherness and encourage community members to participate,” Romans says.
“(This project) is certainly helping in the short term, but I believe the long-term payoff will be tremendous,” Sumrall says. “We have a vision for our community to come closer together. I’m so grateful that OSU has taken us under its wing. I can’t say thank you enough.”
To learn more about the Building Resilient Communities project, visit education.okstate.edu/osubrc.