I’ve struggled with this post for a few days, not sure how best to reflect on the communities that I am involved in. As a transplant from a few hours away, I feel as though I lack the long term connections to people and communities in the Philadelphia area. I moved to Pennsylvania for a job I no longer have, so at times, I can feel untethered to local communities. So, amidst my bout of writer’s block, I felt fortunate to receive some good news from the community I grew up in, specifically that my sister had given birth to a son. I decided to make the trip home to celebrate with my family, and on the drive, spent some time listening to some podcasts, like this one. As I listened to this interview with John Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, on my way home to a community where my ties were much deeper, I felt my writer’s block start to melt away.
In the interview, John Angelos speaks at length about the role that sports play in communities, and the ways in which public policies, both inside and outside sports, have affected communities in places like Baltimore. The interview came just after the protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Through the course of the interview, the discussion of the connections that sports can create in communities really hit home with me. I played football in high school, and literally wore my town name on my chest. I represented my town and community when I put on my uniform, and felt responsible to that community to carry myself the right way. In college, I was able to connect with and represent my peers as a member of the football team. I have no doubt that I pushed myself to be a better student and athlete as a representative of a community. In my experience, once I felt part of a community in high school and in college, I felt comfortable to take chances and motivated to be a better athlete, student, and person.
Of course communities are built in more ways that just though sports. Communities are built by families and neighborhoods, religious institutions, and organizations among dozens of other ways. In the modern world, “digital media tools allow us to analyze, critique, challenge, and learn from the stories of our neighborhoods, the systems that mold and shape them, and the relationships that build and destroy them.” Whatever way communities are built, the ties that they create make community members stronger as a group than they would be as individuals.
Within an educational context, the strength of learning communities can present an additional area of opportunity to either entrench or combat inequity in our schools. Strong communities can affect students in meaningful way by enhancing engagement and motivation, as they have in my own life. Schools who may be financially disadvantaged in comparison to other schools may be able improve their performance through community based initiatives. At a time where high stakes testing has become the norm for so many schools, it is critical that educators take time to focus on the development of learning communities.