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Lifelong learning: a joint city government-school board initiative.

In Sharon, Penn., officials from the city government and school system often work hand-in-hand to effect change. So it was with our organizing what is now incorporated as The Sharon Lifelong Learning Council.

In 1989, President Bush and the nation's governors formulated six national education goals. At the same time these goals were being derived, individuals from throughout Sharon were meeting to discuss community development.

Months of discussion about community needs culminated with the following problem statement:

"A dichotomy exists between our community and its educational opportunities. A significant portion of the population does not perceive education as a useful, rewarding, and lifelong process. As a result, community self-image is low. The work ethic is weakening. Educational opportunities and facilities are underutilized. Innovative approaches to problem-solving are needed."

The community members who made this statement are volunteers who represent not only the municipal government, but also business, industry, social service organizations, various religious faiths, the medical profession, higher education, the schools, and other areas common to our community.

School alumni and individuals have also joined the ranks.

As varied as the representation is, the mission is very much a shared one--to bring learning to the forefront of life in our community. These individuals realized early-on in their discussions that education represents the future social and economic base of our community.

Therefore, The Sharon Lifelong Learning Council developed an action plan to create alliances among the local school systems, institutions of higher education, social services, and the private sector. The alliances provide for the growth and exchange of facilities, personnel, training, technology, and a wide variety of resources and services to bring learning to the forefront of community life. Some of the Council's projects include:

* The weekly "Read and Discuss" Group for adults reads works by authors as varied as Charlotte Bronte and Ray Bradbury.

* The "Starting with Stories" program distributes books four times a year to all kindergarten through second grade Sharon students. The program gets children and their parents reading together.

* The "Buddy Books" program provides books to third grade Sharon students with related books for their parents. The program encourages a reading interchange between parent and child.

* The "Starting with Subscriptions" program for Sharon students in grades four through six brings further reading material into students' homes.

* Annual plantings in Sharon neighborhoods are being made by volunteers and students with donated plants.

The Council recently received a major operating grant from a private foundation, the Howard Heinz Endowment. These funds are enabling the Council to hire a community education coordinator whose role is two-fold: to facilitate implementation of the action plan and to re-shape the plan as needs dictate.

Whatever the innovative strategies we decide on, we know they have to work toward: creating a dynamic within the city, focusing on continued learning, helping to educate people in neighborhoods and community, and giving people a sense of involvement with our schools.

Local government and school district officials are providing the leadership to develop a community model of lifelong learning whose viability relies on the interaction among the school system, the home, and the community-at-large.

Based on this model, it is projected that the schools will become lifelong centers of learning for the community they serve by the year 2000. Predicted outcomes include:

* the community taking advantage of the educational opportunities made available to them;

* increased utilization of community facilities;

* residents perceiving education as a useful, rewarding, and lifelong process;

* an increased self-image within the community;

* an improved work ethic within the business and industrial community; and

* innovative approaches to solving community-based problems.

The Sharon Lifelong Learning Council meets the second Monday of each month. The Council consists of four officers (President, Vice-president, Secretary and Treasurer), the community education coordinator, and an all-volunteer membership. Council members serve on various committees to ensure program development.

Programs are sustained largely through resourcefulness made possible by the alliances the Council creates. Monies to maintain or to develop new programs come from a variety of sources: contributions, fund-raising efforts, donations from companies, businesses or publishing firms, the Alumni

Association, the Education Foundation, civic organization support, public foundations, private endowments, or a charitable trust.

If one subscribes to the proverb, "It takes a whole village to educate a child," then the residents of the city of Sharon, are villagers who are central to the full development of the education of its citizens: youth and adults alike.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sharon, Pennsylvania
Author:Price, Robert; Thomas, Donald B.; Bursey, Shirley
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 2, 1992
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