Asset Mapping & Resources in Eastern North Philadelphia: Connecting the Dots

Rosa is a single mother of two in Eastern North Philadelphia (ENP). Her eldest child, Julio a fifth grader at one of the public elementary schools in the neighborhood, is struggling with reading and math. Her youngest, Thalia, is looked after by a stay-at-home neighbor who also takes care of two other children. Thalia is behind in her speech development and only knows a few words in Spanish. Rosa is desperate to help her children succeed in school but between her two jobs, responsibilities at home, and limited English proficiency, she has little time to look for help let alone know where to look.

Rosa is one of many parents in ENP who live in an area where half of all residents live below the poverty line and almost 29% of households are considered linguistically isolated. [1] The area is also home to some of the lowest performing schools in Philadelphia and encompasses four zip codes: 19125, 19133, 19134 and 19140, which the School District of Philadelphia has identified as “drop-out hot spots”. [2] In fact, studies on early warning indicators (EWI) support this designation: many are reading below grade level in both the 3rdand 6thgrades and older students are “off-track” by the time they enter high school. [3]

Despite considerable time and resources being  invested in high-impact interventions, education and social services by community organizations in ENP, these valuable community resources are generally  uncoordinated by the School District or area schools, and are too often simply unknown to them. The result is a fragmented educational system that neglects to link teachers, parents and children to available educational resources in the community.

As a Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellow (ELF), I am working with the multiservice nonprofit Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Inc. to develop a community impact project. My goal is to identify educational assets in this community and support student education from pre-K through high school. The objective is to produce a comprehensive culturally competent resource guide in both English and Spanish that will connect students, parents, school staff and other community stakeholders to these resources. The project, which we’ve unceremoniously christened the ENP Asset Mapping Project, covers roughly 1.7 square miles of Eastern North Philadelphia. Critical to the project’s sustainability and success are the strong partnerships I have cultivated in the community – especially through community mapping sessions. Popularized by professors McKnight and Kretzman of the Institute of Policy Research at Northwestern University, a community asset approach to community development sees local residents and groups as key to any sustainable development initiative and focuses on identifying the internal assets and strengths of communities rather than deficits.[4] Thus, an important component of my data collection approach involves partnering with individuals and community groups to participate in mapping sessions, surveys, interviews and database exchanges.

Through these collaborative and inclusive data collection efforts, I hope that we will collectively identify as many community assets in the region as possible and present this information in a way that is accessible, valuable and relevant to families, school personnel  and community service providers. Part of this will be to understand what local educational resources community members know of and value, and what programs and services families would like to use but may not be available. We will no doubt identify resource gaps in the community, which will provide useful information to providers and funders looking to impact the educational outcomes of children in this area.

Additionally, it will be important to determine the best way to disseminate and publicize the education resource guide. Towards this end, our surveys and mapping sessions are designed to collect information about the primary way in which information is accessed among families, school staff and other service providers. While the project is focused on education in this first year, a large body of literature suggests that other social determinants are correlated and equally critical to improving educational attainment and outcomes. [5][6] Consequently, our data compilation includes not only educational resources but also health and social resources. Eventually, this information will be accessible to multiple stakeholders and lay the foundation for a fluid cradle-to-career pipeline. We envision a time when the ENP Asset Mapping Project will serve as the catalyst for a connected educational infrastructure so parents like Rosa know where to look to find the neighborhood academic enrichment programs in reading and math for her son, and the early speech intervention and high quality certified Keystone STARS early childhood program for her daughter– thereby transforming a “drop-out” hotspot into a high performing hotspot. 

[1]Eastern North Philadelphia Youth Service Coalition 2008 Community Report, by the Eastern North Philadelphia Youth Service Coalition (ENPYSC) and the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project, (2008).

[2]Mapping Philadelphia’s dropouts, The Notebook, (April 2013).

[4]Kretzman, John P., and McKnight, John L., (1993): Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Asset, Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research

[5]Low, D., Low, B., Baumler, E., Phuong, P. (2005). “Can Education Policy Be Health Policy? Implications of Research on the Social Determinants of Health”. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 30(6), 1132-1162.

[6]Cowell, A., J. (2006). “The relationship between education and health behavior: some empirical evidence”. Health Economics, (15), 125-146.

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