America has two kinds of schools: the first are well-equipped private and suburban public institutions or magnet/charter schools with inviting facilities where kids feel at home, feel known, and can grow in a nurturing environment. Having invested in their infrastructure, these “beacon” schools have a vested interest in staying open long after the school day is over as well as during the summer, providing adults and kids with opportunities for classes, camps, meeting-places, performance venues, athletics…lifelong learning.
The second kind of school is the quintessential urban public school in need, in need of everything from pencils, books, paper, Kleenex, to donated musical instruments and computers. Everything in these “at risk” schools is hand to mouth, and unsurprisingly, these schools have little or no life after school because they have few or no resources to engage or enrich their surrounding community.
Our audacious idea is to take this idea of school as community hub that the private school world has already proved viable (and even profitable) and import it into the at-risk, impoverished communities that surround our urban schools. Reliably, we lament the lack of after school or summer opportunities for kids at risk, the rec centers that are closed or under wraps. But it really doesn’t have to be a zero sum game of either providing rec centers or improving schools, or a choice between community gardens vs. schools, or community libraries vs. schools. The school buildings are here, yet only in use for a woefully narrow portion of a day or a year, often without any library or art, or music, or athletics at all. At heart, any investment in the infrastructure of schools should audaciously be seen as a fundamental, far-reaching investment in the health—physical and intellectual—of every individual in that surrounding community.
If every school had a fitness center, then who wouldn’t want to use it in the evenings, weekends, and during the summer? If every school had a garden, then kids, seniors, and out of work adults could grow more during the summer months, when “school is over and out” than they ever could during the school year. If school seemed like a beacon, open and lit up, then wouldn’t people want to be there, and want to invest?
As the founder and the creative consultant of Bmorefit, which trains older, at risk youth to become fitness trainers and ambassadors of healthy choices, we envision a place where savvy, energized Bmorefit graduates can make core changes in their communities. We envision a place for these formerly at risk youth to become change agents with jobs that are meaningful and sustainable. When a young person graduates from Bmorefit, all they need to create fitness opportunities in their community is a room, some mats and balls, and a boom box. We hope they can return to their urban communities—to the very schools where they didn’t succeed—to be ambassadors who know the basics of nutrition, healthy choices, and the importance of exercising safely to build up stamina, resilience and self-esteem, from the inside out.