Teachers, too, can easily get to the gym's StairMasters, weights, and workout classes. The results aren't just better abs but better attitudes. The teachers are happy, and their higher retention rate pays dividends for the kids.
The parents are also more involved. Instead of an awkward once-a-year meeting, teachers and parents find themselves on adjacent bikes in the spin class. They're comfortable with one another.
I was stunned to learn that the school was more than a decade old, because it looked so new and fresh. A few years ago, when the school system didn't have the money to paint the building, they turned to their partner. The Y raised the money and the painters came.
The school and the Y were originally built in 2000, the result of an innovative partnership that included Orange County Public Schools, the Central Florida YMCA, and other private- and public-sector partners.
I admired this partnership because I had led efforts to connect schools and communities in Maryland for almost 20 years. If the community feels the school is theirs, the parents are more apt to visit, volunteer, and talk to teachers. The schools can only benefit from neighbors who care -- fewer fights, better test scores, healthier students. Nationally, the group Communities in Schools, launched by the visionary reformer Bill Milliken, has done a terrific job of attracting community support for schools and promoting the ideas that all children should have mentors, do community service, and have great health care.
But what I saw in Orlando was unique, a local initiative that's the first of its kind in the nation. Here the community is represented by the YMCA, an already vigorous and attractive institution. This means that the school doesn't have to do all the hard work. It has a built-in magnet.
As I walked along the halls and visited the classrooms, I kept imagining what could be accomplished if we replicated this model in the 2,500 YMCAs across the country. The Ys already flourish, because they have enticing facilities that people are eager to come to. It would be amazing if each Y could be paired with a school.
The charter school movement is strong in some states, but the results don't always bear out the promise. Eighty percent of charter schools don't produce better results than traditional public education. And sadly, some results are much worse. Partnering with a strong local institution like a Y would bring new resources, new friends, and the wraparound services that so many children (not to mention their teachers and parents and school staff) could enjoy. What a great idea to nurture mind and body in the same place!
As expected, the results are impressive. While 37 percent of NorthLake Park's students are on free/reduced lunch and 60 percent of them are minorities, academically the school ranks among the top 10 percent in Florida. And the whole community benefits. The building is open to the community for 5,400 hours a year, over three times the hours of operation of a conventional school.