Best Practices

Mayor Harry Felker

City-School Partnerships to Support Education

Youth Issues Task Force -- Convened by the past board president of the Topeka Public Schools, this group includes the school superintendent, police chief, juvenile court judge, district attorney, local television station general manager and the Mayor. This task force has met every other month for the past two years, principally to deal with such issues as curfews, alternative education, crime trends, athletic and academic events, summer youth activities, funding of youth programs and community support for schools. These meetings have opened up lines of communication and led to the development of joint programming.

Mayor-Principal Meetings -- Three years ago, the Mayor and a local businessman invited all county high school principals to have lunch and talk about any issues and concerns in which the city could be of assistance. Such topics as employment for youth, security at upcoming school events, graduation events, and gang activity were discussed at these monthly meetings. During the first year, the Mayor opened up the meetings to include middle school principals, since many of the same issues were surfacing at their level. Also included in these meetings have been state legislators, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, youth shelter representatives, juvenile court officials and representatives of the state agency handling juvenile matters. These meetings have opened communication channels. Problems between youth shelters and schools have been solved, and feedback between schools and the district attorney on truancy matters has improved.

Second Chance School -- Beginning in 1991, a partnership of the Topeka Parks and Recreation Department, Police Department, Shawnee County Court Services and Topeka Public Schools created a nontraditional, out-of-school learning opportunity for long-term suspended or expelled middle and high school students, many of whom have been expelled for weapons possession or violence. Students are expected to show behavioral and academic improvement. They are enrolled for three hours a day and schedules are individualized. Students who successfully complete course work receive a passing grade for the semester which is recorded on their transcript. All students receive tutoring. Counseling, conflict management and interpersonal skill development and special education assistance are available as needed. The program was originally housed at the Police Athletic League center and is now located at the former police training facility. The police tie-in helps provide structure and security, and Parks and Recreation provides fitness opportunities.

School Resource Officer -- Beginning in the 1994-95 school year, the city and Topeka Public Schools created the first school resource officer position. A Topeka Police Officer splits her time between a middle and high school, teaching and working with students, staff and parents. Basically this is community policing in a school setting.

At-Risk Youth Incentive Program -- In 1993, the city council approved funding for a pilot effort to work with high-risk youth. This trial program used a variety of incentives to encourage youth to improve behavior, citizenship and academic performance. The program has funded a Rite of Passage Program for African-American males, and an incentive program at the Topeka Public School's Alternative Education Program.

Youth Service Program -- In 1991, the city recognized the necessity of stepping up prevention efforts for at-risk youth. A small amount of funding was re-allocated for a summer jobs program at one of the city's community centers and to expand a job readiness program. The next year, a joint effort by the Mayor and City Council produced an additional $100,000 in funds for youth programs, and the following year this was increased to $250,000. In addition, a youth coordinator position was created to oversee the expenditure of these funds, to better coordinate the efforts of youth service programming and to develop programs for emerging needs. A citizen review committee, which includes two young persons, receives applications, holds hearings and forwards recommendations for funding to the City Council.

Topeka Youth Council -- In 1983, the city of Topeka formed a youth council to advise the Mayor on issues important to the young people of the community. In the late 1980's this group was merged with a similar youth council operated by a youth service agency. This joint advisory council is composed of representatives of all high schools in the county to work on community events and issues of interest to the council. Twice a year, this council provides an update to the city governing body, and appears at other times to provide input on current issues before the city. The council has sponsored annual New Years Eve events as alternatives to at-risk activities, summer talent and fun events, and a spring conference focusing on a particular issue of concern, such as violence or substance abuse. The city provides an annual appropriation of $6,000 to help support the youth council.

Annual Youth Volunteer Celebration -- Annually, on National Youth Service Day, a special celebration takes place at the City Council Chamber to honor the youth in our community who have completed 100 hours of non-stipend community service. The names of the youth are submitted by the local middle and high schools.

Parent-to-School -- Sponsored by the City Administration and the City Council, this initiative gives each city employee two hours a month to take part in school activities. Every employee of the city may take part, including those who are not parents.

Robinson After School -- This program, funded by City Youth Service, takes place after school each day at a local middle school. The program provides learning, socialization and leadership activities for neighborhood youth. The students develop a calendar of activities they would like to have included during the school year, such as theater, gymnastics, art workshops and team sports.

Project Attention -- This a partnership of a local social service organization, local elementary schools and the City of Topeka. Project Attention provides assistance for parents and their children to locate and access needed health and nutrition services. This partnership also provides GED classes and English as a Second Language classes for parents.

Project 08 -- A group of community residents, social service organizations and schools was convened by the city to focus resources on an under-served area of the community. The group uses shared grants and common funding streams to develop services which fill identified gaps in the community.

Topeka Youth Project Jr. Corps -- Designed to give middle school-aged youth volunteer opportunities, this program exposes youth to work responsibility and helps prepare them to join the workforce. The program was designed after several requests from parents who wanted something for the children to do during the summer. Participants volunteer at day care centers, on play grounds, work with the elderly and serve meals to the homeless.

Community Youth Round Table -- This event, hosted by the Mayor, brings together adult and youth community leaders to share views on issues which affect the community. Past topics have been: violence, health needs and employment.

Art After School -- Funded by the City Youth Program, art instructors provide activities at latch-key sites after school for grade school students. The program gives participants exposure to artistic expression.

Adopt-A-School -- City employees have adopted a local elementary school. Employees serve as adult mentors, teacher aides and office support and work on fundraising events for equipment and supplies.

Employee/Employer Appreciation Banquet -- An annual event to recognize youth who work hard, keep up their grades, take part in the community and who have overcome difficulties. The event also honors local employers who work to make the city a better place for young people.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (913) 295-3895

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The United States Conference of Mayors

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