What do you want to learn and why? That’s where it all starts. Is it literacy in your native language or English as a second language? Do you wish to become an American citizen or build an understanding of how to be active in your community? Do you want to preserve a traditional craft or learn to cook to stay well? Whatever you wish to know, you can learn it at Jane Addams through one-on-one pairings or in our Hmong, Spanish, or Children’s Learning Circles. And here, all learners are teachers, sharing their experiences, insights, and strength while gathering the same from all members of our diverse, dynamic community.
Evenings at Jane Addams open with large group discussions on issues of importance to the community and the world. Our Cultural Exchanges are facilitated by whomever takes the lead — college students, faculty, and Hmong, Latino, East African and other community members. And the topics are those of engaged citizens everywhere concerned about their families and community, ranging from the meaning of citizenship, democracy, or freedom to cultural traditions on childrearing and examining violence in the community. In this forum Jane Addams School members have their voices heard on important issues while honoring and sharing cultural traditions.
How do you define community? One way is people who share. What is shared varies, but ranges from culture and religion to concerns about safety, education and politics. Sometimes called the Ellis Island of the Midwest, St. Paul’s West Side community has been a portal of entry into the region for immigrants since the mid-19th century. Today, long-term residents live side by side with more recent refugee families and immigrants. For all of that diversity, they share what neighbors share – place – homes, schools, parks, shops, streets, sidewalks. Jane Addams School provides the public space for a community that could be fragmented by diversity to come together to build bonds of understanding, to unite, to work together for common purpose.
Teach = Learn
When you come to the Jane Addams School, set aside your ideas about education. Here teaching and learning are much the same thing. The distinction between learners and teachers blurs. We all teach. We all learn. Every person has something of value to contribute. Everyone has things to learn. So everyone contributes to the creation of the school and everyone participates actively, sharing their strengths.
Citizenship, politics and democracy have never been neat and tidy. Nothing that demands so much passion and hard work can be. At the Jane Addams School we learn by doing — we get involved in the often hard and frustrating work of our democracy. So there is rarely a pause, a hush or a lull here. In fact, you might think we’re on the brink of chaos. But what appears as confusion is energy and excitement over things that matter. Stir in our persistence to play and you get a clear sense of the vitality of Jane Addams School.
Democracy is so good it is, rightfully, a celebration. So, amid all of the hard and often frustrating work, we have fun. Proud of our pasts and how very far we have come, we celebrate ourselves, our community and the bright promise of our future. And, we play. To learn and just for fun. In every ordinary way that people, young and old, play. And then we share our fun with the larger community, through events like the Freedom Festival, so all can join in our celebrations.