Students at Seattle's Bailey Gatzert Elementary face a variety of challenges. The school is located in one of Seattle's poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods. A third of people living in the area live below the federal poverty level. The crime rate around Gatzert exceeds and sometimes doubles the state average. Youth violence and the rate of kids being sent to juvenile detention are the highest in the city. Combined, the circumstances can add up to a sometimes insurmountable number of academic challenges.
The Seattle School District's "School Report" for Gatzert provides a dismal snapshot of the school: 92-percent of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Nearly 40-percent of its students speak English as a second language. The school's website indicates language support is offered in eight different languages. Almost a quarter of the school's students are classified as needing special education services. It is also one of the district's lowest performing campuses - with only a third of Gatzert's 4th graders passing state mandated math tests in the 2009-2010 school year. Only 16-percent of the school's 5th graders passed the state science test.
Geoffrey Canada faced the same situation when he created the Harlem Children's Zone, a program that many credit with turning around academic achievement in one of New York City's poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Its achievements were highlighted in the movie "Waiting for Superman."
Now, Seattle University is hoping the same can be done here and is willing to put its money, staff and students at work to make it happen for students at Bailey Gatzert Elementary. This week, the private Jesuit university announced a $1-million a year project dubbed the Seattle University Youth Initiative.
As part of the program, the university's eight schools and colleges will provide services to both children and families such as: tutoring and after school help to Gatzert students; free legal aid to immigrant families living near the school and; free health assistance to area residents. The help will follow the students as they enter Washington Middle and Garfield High School.
"The Youth Initiative represents what I believe will be one of the most significant efforts in the history of our university and expands on the mission of a Jesuit Catholic university," said SU President Father Stephen Sunborg.