Research and Development Learning Centers started in 1975, by a Columbia University graduate who was interested in providing for the needs of youth living in middle class America who needed positive activities and mentoring. Churches and community centers were encouraged to address the needs of these middle class children. The goverment was already addressing the needs of the poor and the challenged, but what about the other youth? Today churches and community centers are encouraged to open its doors to American youth, mentor them into adulthood, provide activities that will help them in areas of STEM and social development. America needs all of her youth, and she needs churches to become welcoming centers for youth, with opportunities to improve academic and social skills. Churches need to make Christ a living example of how to love God and love our neighbor, and sometimes the neighbor we need to love are our own youth. We love each other and together we can make America into the loving family of God she is called to be. Each church should be a learning center and a drop in center for all who seek God’s love.

Drop By For God, when and where did the process begin? Before becoming a public school teacher, I planted Learning centers in communities.

 

The question is when, where and how did I learn to be an effective teacher? When? Graduating from college, I made the decision to go into business for myself. Having young children did not permit me the freedom of running off to save the world. My world centered on my neighborhood and the children in the neighborhood. There was a need and the decision was made to design a program to address that need and thus a business plan was born. Graduating in the spring; summer soon approaching; two teenage sons with nothing to do, the motivation to start a business using the tools of education became a reality born out of necessity.

There were teenagers all over the neighborhood with nothing to do. Out of necessity and brilliance, a Summer Camp Program was created. The advantage of owing a large house, and credibility in the community made it possible to secure the required political support. This was the house, which sponsored all the block parties, Easter egg hunts, and the first house visited on Christmas morning. Children would rush over here to share their Christmas joys with each other and exchange gifts. The house had been the center of activity for the youth in the community for years, but was not large enough to handle the number of children and families who expressed an interest in taking part in the Summer Camp Program. Directly across the street, there was a church. It was a medium size church, which could hold about 200 people. It had a large space over the church that was used for special gatherings and dinners.

The church over flowed on Sundays, with all the members dressed in their Sunday best. It sat empty six days a week. The pastor went off to his day job, and the other people went about their own daily lives. I saw the church as an opportunity to serve the community, and I also saw it as a place where I could put these teenagers who were overflowing my basement.

The pastor was approached, and presented with the idea of turning the church into a community center during the summer months, and operating a Summer Camp out of the church. The qualifications to operate the program were presented, and the idea that this would be a financially self sustaining program was appealing. The excitement of the program was mutually shared and the RDLC came into existence. The timing was perfect and I was known as a community leader, he was delighted. He said he wanted to do something in the community, but he did not have the manpower or the time to complete his vision and his dream. He said I could have the use of the entire facility, and he and the church would help me where needed. This was May, and school ended in June.

I had one month to make the program operational. The pastor gave me the keys to the building, and showed me how to lock up after I left. I cross the street back to my home, and went through the planning phase of the program. I called on all of my friends who were teachers to help me. They in turn called on their friends, some of whom were politicians, policemen, and business people. We worked day and night to get the program ready for the children. The City of New York sent over representatives to see how they could help; the mayor’s office sent over technical assistance, and the red tape involved in setting up a program was handled smoothly. The Youth Department of the City said that if I would provide the training supervision, they would pay for youth workers to work in the program. I agreed to cover the cost of hiring certified teachers who were willing to supervise the young people, and work during the summer. When word got out that I was employing young people to work for the summer, I became one of the largest employers in the neighborhood. Hundreds of young people would line up in front of my house waiting for an interview.

The police department provided support and came by and visited with the kids. Most of the officers I knew because they were married to my girl friends who were teachers, and some of their children were in the program. I hired about 100 counselors. The Youth Department of the City came in and gave them w-2 forms, and payroll information, and informed them of their pay dates, and we were in business. I had carefully selected the best from the large group of applicants, and I had interviewed each one myself. In the process of the interview, I was also doing staff development and training.

I was able to see who would fit in, and who would not. I did not accept any behavior challenges or attitude adjustment individuals; I had neither the time nor the operational cost to hire special needs personnel at this time. My background was in early childhood education, program development, with course work in the requirements of special needs students, therefore, the requirements of this special category with its challenges were taken into special considerations. This was not the time or the place to bring in challenging circumstances, which could have a significant effect on program operation. It must be clear, that the program at no time reject any child, but the program was exclusive and selective of behaviors requiring additional support services. It was later learned that parents made necessary adjustments to their children’s behaviors and guaranteed that no additional special service resources would be required.

Parents were guaranteed the safety and security of their children and a positive learning opportunity. This was guaranteed through strict rules of compliance carefully supervised and carried out by carefully selected and trained personnel. This was a different time and a different belief system and place; children were free to be children, but not to make different rules, which could harm themselves or others. Never accept or transport children who you cannot control or who have difficulty accepting rules of behavior required to guarantee safety. In our program, we reserved the right not to accept behavior problems and to dismiss individuals who became behavior problems. I have had the responsibility of paying for a certified teacher to escort a child with behavior problems back to his parents at extensive cost. We were at sleep away camp, and I sent the child home by train. I was up in the mountains with 150 teachers counselors and campers, and I could not take a chance on the safety of anyone, your child will behave or he will be at home. In all of my years teaching and working with children, I have never had an accident, I have been blessed, determined, strict and professional, my own children are part of all of my activities, I wanted the best for them, and I gave the best to other people’s children.

These rules, guidelines and courage to implement would prove the foundation of a successful teaching career later used in the New York City Board of Education. The year was 1975 and arrangements were made to have staff orientation at the church. With staff in place, we proceeded in marketing for the children. The community was all a buzz about this new program, and the parents were waiting for an opportunity to register their children for the program.

Many of these restrictions would not have been possible if the program were financed through government funding. Parents paid a nominal fee, which were used to cover salaries and operational expenses. The cost of training and supervision of youth workers were covered by my services. Programs attempting to replicate this program often failed, because they are forced to take everyone into their programs without restrictions. Even the best intended program will meet with people intended to destroy efforts, it is part of the human behavior experience.

Our program attempted to control for these human variables. Existent programs will often attempt to prevent new programs from achieving success, this is human behavior, and can be handled with attention to details and careful selection of customers and staff.

As a restrictive program and a fee for service program, we did not threaten the marketing of government-funded programs, and our marketing was word of mouth and recommendation. Our children would be well dressed and well behaved, requiring a dress code and compliance to family values. We would not debate or discuss challenges to strict guidelines, and we reserved the right to dismiss any family who was not happy with the program. Fees were low and quality was high, and we wanted happy students.

The decision was made to accept a limited number of 25 children in the program, and we open the doors for registration. The number increased to 50 with the decision to include older youth as part of the program. Few day camps were accepting older youths since; it requires a very professional competent staff, and strict selection process.

As carefully as I interviewed the staff, I was even more careful in the interview and selection of the children. I was not in a position to accept children who did not want to be in the program, or children who were known behavior challenges. The staff and supervisors decided that we should provide the children with an opportunity to experience camp life in a regular camping environment. I was able to work with the New York City Mission Society to let us bring our children up to their facilities during the time when they were not using them.

I was an Alumnus of the Green Acres family camp operated by the New York City Mission Society, and I was familiar with its beautiful camping facilities located in Dover Plains New York. My children had spent years in the family camping program; we were familiar with the routines and the rules and regulations. I was certified by the State Of New York Education Department to teach and work with children. I had two Master degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University, with a specialization in Education Administration, I was academically and credential for the task. This is important, because if you are not qualified to operate a program, you will not know how to recognize challenges before they happen, and handle them when they do occur.

If you do not have these qualifications, hire someone with the qualifications, government and other institutions will verify and monitor your activities. There is no such thing as separations of any institution from the government when children or the general public are involved, so hire for government approval and follow all guidelines. The government will be ready to help you in your program, but it has the power to shut you down instantly. New York City Mission Society, Green Acres granted us permission to use the facilities for one week during the interim period when no camping was taking place.

The legal requirements for transporting fifty children and one hundred counselors in to a camping area covering 1800 areas involved precise planning. Permission slips from parents had to be obtained. Medical examinations for the children and staff had to be obtained. Training for staff had to be intense and on point. The supervisors fortunately were all alumni of the Green Acre camping experience and Certified School teachers, so they were familiar with the surroundings and Green Acres procedures. I had to hire my own certified lifeguard, cooks and support personnel.

We followed the traditional Green Acres program guidelines so we were not entering into new situations. Green Acres ordered the food for us, therefore we were able to purchase in bulk. The City of New York and the church considered this one of its outreached programs for the community and therefore, they provided assistance where possible to reduce the cost of the operation. The City assumed the cost for the staff, and the payroll of 100 people. I assumed the cost of 5 Certified teachers. The lifeguard was one of the counselors hired, so that the City covered cost.

The budget was made out, and the decision was made to charge the parents a nominal fee to cover the cost of operating expense not covered by the city. The camping fee did not include the cost of additional activities. Parents paid an activity fee, which covered the cost of transportation and admission to all events. We hired three busses to transport us to the campsite, and pick us up when we were ready to return. Green Acres is a religious camp, so a great deal of the camping activities centers on spiritual development.

The director of Green Acres was a minister, and he remained and conducted the daily religious service for the children. Campfire services were very effective, and it set the tone for the young people to enjoy the presence of God and welcome Him into their lives. The spiritual component of the program made it easy to handle the large group. The environment made it possible for the children to open up and enter into areas of themselves that they had not known before. The beautiful lake and mountains provides a peaceful setting for the children and they shared their spirits with each other. I noticed the joy that they children expressed during the period of their stay in the environment, and I understood, the quiet tears, which ran down their cheeks as they entered back into the atmosphere of the City.

It was nice to know that there was such a place as Green Acres, and the reality of its existence provided a grounding place for the spiritual formation, which became the center focus of the ministry. I later moved out of the medium size church into a larger church, Crawford UMC, and continued the program there. Each church continued the program as part of its own out reach service. The Research and Development Learning Centers, set up programs in the Wakefield section of the northeast Bronx New York, including the Wake Eden Child Development Center, The Bronx Art Center, funded by the Bronx Council of the Arts and the Edenwald Community Center. These programs also included feeding programs for families. During the fall and winter months the RDLC operated after school programs. All programs remained the property of the churches and community centers where they were planted; the purpose was to help established community based programs develop first class outreach programs for the community. The RDLC did not financially benefit from any of these programs since the programs became part of established community based organization. The RDLC brought its program to the Riverside Church where it established through the Youth Department of the Church the Educational Achievement Program, under Dr. Britton, the Church assumed all of the cost for the program. I was now an appointed Certified teacher with the New York City Board of Education. I would bring my 5th grade public school students to the after school program, which I started at the Riverside Church, and legally combined the roles of religion and education in the development of academic excellence in public school children.

The decision to move to New Jersey and expand the operation resulted in meeting challenges for which my level of competence had reached its peak. The program was planted in an Englewood church. The political realities of working in an unfamiliar environment resulted in my shutting down the program after one year. New Jersey was not New York, and the political connections, which I had in New York, were of no value in New Jersey. Individuals were recommended to work for me who felt privileged and entitled.

The political environment tried to tell me whom to hire, and what they would or would not do. I did not have my New York staff with me, and as a results, I was at the mercy of the New Jersey political machine. It was not about religion, or service, it was about favoritism and control, and I was not familiar with how the game was played. I was however, the main player, and I opted out. I took my marbles and went home. It was around this time that I decided to give up working for myself, and I entered the Board of Education.

This brings me back to my original point, and why I went on this long journey. I entered the Board of Education with all of my credentials, and I was assigned a class. The assignment was outside of my license area. I am a certified teacher with an area of specialization in Early Childhood Education. I had 6 years experience as working as a Day Care teachers for the Department of Social Service, my field was early childhood education, my license was Elementary education. My first assignment was working in Jr. High School with Emotionally disturbed teenagers.

The department quickly gave me a CRMD license, after I passed the test, and said, go ahead, and teach. It was at this point that I realized that I had learn how to teach, by becoming a camp director, and running after school programs with reading and math components in the program. I had learned the skills of lesson planning from planning the development and operation of my own school and camp.

I had learned classroom management for the management techniques required to manage large groups of children engaged in different activities.

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