Traditionally, the new neighbor hears a knock on the door or the chime of the doorbell and then finds a grinning stranger on the stoop with a casserole or a tray of cookies. It’s a lovely tradition that makes the new neighbor feel welcomed and included.
That’s not quite what we have in mind as the Mastery School of Hawken joins the Glenville and University Circle neighborhood. Instead, we want to build community with our neighbors by showing up each and every day whether for a quick chat, or when it matters most. We want to learn about our neighbors’ lives through listening and sharing authentically.
The Mastery School of Hawken Community Advisory Board (CAB) is a strategic effort to continue meaningful relationship-building in Cleveland through establishing bonds of mutual benefit — bonds that will be particularly important as we approach our launch this fall. CAB members will advise the Mastery School Design Team about local best practices in being the kind of neighbor we hope to be when we open our doors.
This is not simply an exercise in good will. Instead, it’s central to our entire practice. The secret sauce in our teaching model hinges on our ability to forge meaningful relationships with the people and organizations that are our neighbors.
There are so many people within a few miles of campus who are doing amazing work in every facet of life — from the arts to community development — creating safe spaces for young people to learn and thrive, and investing in the economic health of every neighborhood. We believe that giving the fullest appreciation to the many voices of our neighbors opens the space we need in order to offer a truly transformative educational experience to our young people.
To that end, we are excited to work with our neighbors on questions of their choosing, supporting the good work already taking place here in Cleveland. We believe part of being a good neighbor is about listening deeply to what people need and finding meaningful ways to support the people doing that good work.
One way we do this within our educational model is to center the needs and experiences of our partners through a human-centered design process, and take advantage of opportunities to use our positionality as an institution of privilege to be a megaphone for what our neighbors say they need. We don’t assume we know. In solidarity, we listen and respond.
Success with this kind of education demands empathy. To advance our commitments to equity, inclusion, and social justice, it is critical that we ground our work to connect meaningfully with our neighbors in Glenville and throughout Cleveland in ways that are dignifying and asset-based.
Again, we can’t assume we have all the answers. To achieve our goals, we must center the voices of local residents as we work to co-create the just and equitable future we all desire. Authentic partnership requires authentic listening. We are committed to both.
In a class I co-taught this Fall, I had an opportunity to practice the type of partnership we envision at the Mastery School. During the first three weeks of December, a group of ninth grade Hawken students partnered with our friends at Third Space Action Lab (TSAL). Using the methods and training from the Korda Institute, my colleagues and I worked with the team from Third Space to create the learning terrain for an in-depth, three-week student experience.
To begin, we visited Third Space to hear about their excellent work hosting racial equity trainings at the Third Space CLE Cafe, right around the corner from us on E 105th Street.
To date, they have trained more than 5,000 people about what racial inequity is. They also work with interested individuals and organizations to operationalize unique plans for racial equity within their respective spheres of influence. Our students heard directly from experts about the depth of these inequities locally and nationally, as well as Third Space’s unique approach to addressing it.
Within our educational model, a local partner issues our students a challenge. Ours was: “What should TSAL do next to continue to broaden and deepen awareness of systemic racial inequity in Greater Cleveland and help those who learn about racial inequity move from awareness to more thoughtful action?”
During our Fall Intensive students had the opportunity to have immersive experiences through which they learned about the far-reaching, systemic consequences of racial inequity. In teams, they gathered research on the science of motivation, conducted field research with relevant local stakeholders, and then crafted and tested possible solutions.
At the end of three weeks, our students experienced deep learning, and our partners received helpful youth insights that can contribute to their ongoing work. True partnership hinges on authentic connection and mutual benefit. We were thrilled to have had the opportunity to grow in our ability to act on our commitment to be good neighbors through this experience.
And we’re just getting started.