Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

The School of the Future


The Y is a cause for strengthening the community, working tirelessly to nurture the potential of kids, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and give back and support our neighbors. One of the ways we are strengthening Central Florida is with our Lake Nona Y/Northlake Park Community School. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend recently wrote an article for The Atlantic about her visit to our Lake Nona YMCA/NorthLake Park Community School. In her words, she explains the impact the Y and our partners are making in Central Florida.

NorthLake Park public elementary school is located in the same building as the local YMCA. Wow! The 30,000-square-foot Y is literally right in the middle of the school. The children, who would never have had access to a swimming pool at any regular public school, can now learn to swim, and they also get in shape in the gym and on the walking trails. Some of them take yoga before a test to reduce their pre-test butterflies.

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.

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.

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.

The staff at both the school and the Y recognize that the facility serves the whole child and family through its expanded hours and the multiple activities available to children and families. Teachers work together with YMCA staff to complement what they do in their classrooms.

Arne Duncan, the secretary of Education, agrees. When he visited, he called NorthLake Park a model of what a 21st-century school should be. “This should be the norm,” he said, “not the exception. You have a model for the country right here.”

He’s right, but saying something doesn’t make it so. Community leaders in Orlando worked long and hard to get this school up and running. And after 11 years, they’re about to launch a second school that educates both the students and the community, preparing body and mind, students and family.

Read the full article at The Atlantic.