To best illustrate how a parent might experience the site, check out Lee’s NYCpublic.org story:
Lee has noticed a trend. Schools are being placed in communities without parent input. She wants to find out how other cities site schools or whether New York sited schools differently in the past. She finds some articles where other parents are asking similar questions, but doesn’t know how to connect to the parents mentioned in the articles she’s read. Though she raises this issue at a PTA meeting, it does not get as much traction as the immediate fundraising needs of her school. Her main option is to write something about the issue on a discussion forum or to post on a listserv. This could help her to gather a
group of others who share her concern, but she wants to hear from parents who are not in her immediate social circle. And even if she does pull together a group, what do they do then?
Lee finds NYCpublic.org.
NYCpublic.org will be a clearinghouse for parent-led social action and enable users to identify and connect with other parents throughout the city who share their particular concerns.
Here’s what Lee’s experience might be like on NYCpublic.org:
She searches to see if anyone else has started a group around her issue. She sees groups that have formed around school closures, cafeteria food, PCBs, and farm to school programs; one group wants more charters, another wants fewer. But there is no group focused on how new schools are sited, so she starts her own. Click.
Other folks who share her concerns find her group—either through offsite sources like facebook (Lee posted a link on her Wall), via NYCpublic.org’s New Group notification service (for users who have selected for this option), or simply by browsing the site. They join her group. Click.
Within a relatively short period, Lee’s group has 6 members and 1 citizen journalist/writer (who found out about her writer request and volunteered to write a brief that looks into models for siting new schools and the pros and cons of these models). Using tools on the website, Lee connects the members through email and sets up a phone conference. NYCpublic.org sends her a template for her meeting that will help the group define goals, assign roles, and set a timeline for their work. One of the group members passes on the information on how to join the phone conference to a neighbor who doesn’t have a computer at home.
As the group grows to better understand the issue, the obstacles, and the possible solutions, they might:
- Draft a school-siting protocol, using DOE and community input (NYCpublic.org connects them to experts in participatory action research.)
- Create a petition or send out a press release (NYCpublic.org has how-to guides.)
- Connect to reporters or key DoE staff (NYCpublic.org maintains contact directories.)
- Seek funding for a pamphlet (NYCpublic.org compiles resource links.)
- Or draw attention to the issue through street theater (NYCpublic.org points them to a mentor list.).
- Can they share their success story with other parents? Click. Click. Click.
Lee’s Group Creates Social Change
Though school siting is important to many stakeholders, the parents in Lee’s group have devoted more time to researching and collecting community members’ stories. They are singularly focused on bringing more attention to this issue, to raising awareness, and to finding solutions that better meet the needs of the community. Of course, not all campaigns will result in systemic change. But working together across geographical, economic, and cultural boundaries or taking on new roles, changes participants’ views of themselves and their city. That change is palpable.