Jason Wright, 2014-15 Graduate Research Assistant

By Jason Wright, Graduate Research Assistant, UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative

I graduated from William and Mary in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology.  My background is in psychological research, and I have served as a research assistant and research coordinator at both the state and federal level. Through these positions I had the opportunity to work on a number of projects dealing with intimate partner violence, PTSD, and substance use. I am passionate about efforts to reduce poverty. This interest has developed as a result of personal experiences as well as exposure to vulnerable populations and data suggesting socioeconomic status as a risk factor for things like PTSD and intimate partner violence.

This is my first semester in the MPP program, and I am looking forward to learning more about the policymaking process, expanding my set of research skills, and narrowing my research interests. Furthermore, I am excited to be involved with the Urban Initiative working on meaningful projects that benefit the residents of the Southcoast and our Commonwealth. The team here has been friendly and welcoming, and I look forward to our journey together.

Acushnet Ave Steering Committee Recap

Yesterday evening the Urban Initiative held the first meeting for the Acushnet Avenue Economic Impact Study’s Steering Committee. The Community Economic Development Center on the Avenue was gracious enough to host the event at their offices located near the center of the International Marketplace.

Although not all committee members were able to attend, those who did contributed to a robust discussion about the Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor and offered insight on how we should direct our research efforts to best engage with the business community. The meeting covered the following topics:

Commercial Boundaries

Acushnet Ave is probably one of the most heavily traveled streets in the city. Technically it extends from New Bedford’s northern border with the town of Acushnet to the peninsula in the south (with small detour along Route 18 before it reemerges downtown as an official street intersecting with Elm). For the purpose of community development bloInternational Marketplaceck grants, the city has defined the “International Marketplace” to include the Census tract 6507 and four blocks from the tract to the south. This area is pictured here, with the Avenue highlighted. But most city residents have their own definitions of what constitutes “the Ave.”

Seeking more clarity, we asked committee members to define where the commercial district ends. Members suggested the boundaries for the research area include the walkable portions of the Avenue, side streets along the Avenue extending as far east as Belleville Avenue and as far west in some points as Purchase and Church Streets. The northern boundary was agreed to be Brooklawn Park, as the break in commercial activity offered by the park and the church across the street presents a clear delineation. Interstate 195 was the obvious southern boundary line. While gathering statistics and data for our research we will no doubt have to deal with more cut and dry boundary lines adhering to Census tracts and block groups, the area the committee agreed upon is outlined below.

Research area

 

Study Benchmarks

One of the core ideas behind convening a steering committee for this project was to give the study community ownership from the start. Therefore, we looked forward to committee members reviewing our proposed metrics and offering suggestions as to what they would use to measure improved economic conditions in the neighborhood.

It was generally agreed that the indicators identified in our grant proposal would be good metrics to gauge economic success for the area. These included various socioeconomic demographics on neighborhood residents (annual household income, employment, race/ethnicity, etc.) and information on area businesses (sales and employment figures, product/service diversity, lending, and tax generated). We also hope to investigate the role played by place in the economy by looking at the occupancy rates, density, and age of the neighborhood’s housing stock.

Committee members expressed interest in seeing the change in commercial vacancy rates over time. This would not only show the temporary occupancy of business real estate but also demonstrate which types of businesses had the most success in the commercial corridor and what the market was lacking.

 

Disseminating Results

Committee members were very excited about exploring new means of sharing our research with the community. In the past, reports such as this have been shared via open forums, onetime events that rely on incentives like free food to increase attendance. In lieu of this, the committee suggested a visually stimulating presentation that could be aired on local cable access, and then shared with city officials, local advocacy groups and other stakeholders to use as they choose. It was also suggested that slides or stills from the presentation could be printed as posters and displayed in vacant storefronts, as a way to show passersby that efforts were underway to revitalize the neighborhood. It was agreed this approach would be versatile and allow for maximum exposure.

 

Next Steps

The meeting was adjourned and the committee agreed to reconvene in the early fall, when our survey to area business owners would be nearing completion. Members were open to reviewing drafts of the survey before it was sent out, and many pledged support to help drum up involvement in the survey. Lastly, members agreed to set up one-on-one meetings with our research team to further explore their areas of expertise on neighborhood economic activity.

Summer Intern Work Update: Survey of Elected Officials

Hi! It’s your summer interns: Emma and Ellie!

We are thrilled to announce that we recently completed our survey of elected officials gender, age, race, language, educational attainment, annual income, and geographical location in Fall River and New Bedford. We received our first response today and hope to receive many more in the coming weeks. We expect to be able to share our results with the online community in mid-August, so keep your eyes peeled!

Happy reading!

July project update

Here’s a rundown of our projects and tasks for July:

1. Friends Academy/Center for Education Innovation (CEI) evaluation

We recently wrapped up a survey of elementary school teachers across the New Bedford Public Schools in order to determine the degree to which their feedback about things like technology, collaboration, professional development, and instruction is different than their peers who are working with CEI. We’re also crunching numbers to learn about the impact of CEI’s program on the performance of the students of participating teachers.

2. LifeWork Project

We’ll be writing the first year evaluation report at the end of this month, a report that will document the impact this program has had on participants’ academic performance, career paths, finances, and well-being.

3. New Bedford Regeneration Committee

We’re also approaching the report-writing stage of this project. The report will outline a set of action steps recommended by committee members for regenerating the economy of the city and the region.

4. Health Data SouthCoast

The network of organizations that supported our development of a website that provides easy access to regional and municipal health data is getting ready to publicly launch the site, so we won’t preclude their efforts here. All we’ll say is that it’s ready to go!

5. Taunton HOPE VI

We’re conducting our third and final resident focus group tonight, with the goal of learning about how the program has impacted residents’ abilities to enroll in job training programs and access employment opportunities. Next, we’ll go about updating data to compare current metrics to 2012 baselines in the areas of housing, economy, socioeconomic status, and demographics.

6. NEW: Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor study

Thanks to a just-awarded grant from the Garfield Foundation, we’ll be spending the next six months studying New Bedford’s Acushnet Avenue commercial corridor and the degree to which it influences the local economy. This project will involve data collection and analysis, survey research, and engaging with neighborhood stakeholders to obtain objective information with which to advance the neighborhood’s revitalization.

 

Adam Vieira reflects on his past & future as UI summer intern

My name is Adam Vieira, and I am a returning intern for the Urban Initiative program here at UMass Dartmouth.  I have had the privilege of serving as a Summer intern for the past two years at the Urban Initiative, working on various projects which have focused on public policies and public data regarding gateway cities in Massachusetts.

My first summer with the Urban Initiative in 2012 provided me with the opportunity to develop involvement in the South Coast Urban Indicators Project (SCUIP), a sweeping research-based report on Fall River and New Bedford that examines urban success factors, including safety, education, and cultural engagement, amongst many others. Finding the topic of education particularly interesting and pressing for gateway cities as a whole, the summer high school internship program researched the topic of college accessibility for youth in Massachusetts gateway cities for the summer of 2013, culminating in a final report on the financial, academic, and cultural barriers to college-attendance which was released in the fall of 2013.

Coming back to the Urban Initiative for the last time as a high school intern, it is my hope to continue the mission to highlight and incite discourse on the various issues pertinent to our local urban communities, their residents, and those who possess the power to direct decision-making through research rooted in quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Through research and discussion, resolution to public issues germane to our local municipalities can be reached. A proud citizen of New Bedford, I graduated from New Bedford High School last month (Go Whalers!)  and have a consecrated interest in aiding our gateway cities through the creation of data. Come September, I will be attending Brown University, where I intend to concentrate in Public Policy—a discipline of study that I was attracted to in great part due to my experience interning here at the Urban Initiative for these past few Summers. Upon my entrance to college in September, I am going to deeply miss the Summer afternoons spent in the cool Chase Road office, scribbling ideas on the conference room whiteboard and “nerding-out” with tons of public data. That said, It is my hope to continue working with public issues, particularly those relevant to urban centers, as policy stands to unlock incalculable potential.  In the meantime, in conjunction with the Urban Initiative, I look forward to providing insight on all things relevant to our gateway cities throughout the Summer.

Happy Reading!

Welcome returning intern Emma York

Hello again! This summer I am thrilled to continue collaborating with fellow interns at the Urban Initiative to discuss a myriad of local issues including…..

Religion in New Bedford, purportedly the most godless city in America according to a recent article in Time Magazine which cited statistics from the American Bible Society http://time.com/1541/godless-cities-in-america/

Racial, Age, Gender, and Geographic Representation in Our Elected Officials and its effect on voting habits and funding allocation in New Bedford and Fall River, areas with recent influxes of immigrant populations

And any other issues that spark our interest over the summer!

I will be entering my senior year at New Bedford High School and recently completed an Advanced Placement Statistics course in my Junior Year in which we chose to survey students at New Bedford High School to answer the inquiry: Does race effect our perception of beauty? My results, a resounding yes, have certainly influenced my interests this summer and hopefully the course has honed my skills as a statistician and I hope that I can bring all of that enthusiasm to the urban initiative page over the summer so stay tuned!

Meet Eleanor Bodington, our new summer intern!

Hi, I’m Eleanor Bodington, and I will be a senior this fall at Durfee High School in Fall River. I transferred to Durfee my junior year, and I spent this past year pretty much getting a feel for the school and all it has to offer. I joined the mock trial team and dance team, and this upcoming year, I plan on joining the debate team as well. At my old school, Tiverton High School, I was on the school newspaper, the Tiger Rumble. This summer, I hope to be able to gain a greater understanding of my community and the people that live here. I also hope to be able to analyze data and interpret it in a way that could benefit my community. This autumn, I will be applying to college, where I hope to study Broadcast Journalism. However, I have been recently considering taking a “gap year” to become a “real person” as a coworker once told me. But I suppose it all depends on what I decide come autumn. My biggest anxiety about college is being able to afford it. My parents already have two children in college, so I am going to try my hardest to get a substantional scholarship. Hopefully the Urban Initiative will help me stand out in the application process. I am very excited to be working with the other interns on the Urban Intiative, and I’m sure I’ll have a great summer!

Meet our new summer intern: Mason Thibault

Hello readers,

My name is Mason Thibault, and I will be a senior next year at BMC Durfee High School in Fall River, Massachusetts. Firstly, I must state that I am delighted to possess the opportunity to learn and benefit from my summer internship. The prospect of learning more about my community and the general civic infrastructure is both alluring to my intellectual and humanistic senses, and an opportunity to work and collaborate with my peers in an effort to seek creative solutions to the growing problems facing our generation. I hope to focus on raising awareness for both the Urban Initiative Program, and any effective studies conducted by the group. The efforts and aspirations of all parties who make this internship possible deserve profuse recognition, and I intend to invoke a greater awareness for understanding the effects of civic infrastructure in ways that are accessible to civilians in urban areas. In summary, I hope to develop a mutuality that helps develop my academic and research based skills, while ultimately providing a unique outlook that can flavor and append the work of the Urban Initiative team.

This upcoming school year, I seek to continue to build and expand upon my debate team by forming a strong collective club that can function with the changing winds of graduating classes and educational reform.  I also seek to competitively apply to prestigious colleges and better my developmental athletically and artistically through participation in theater and fall sports.

In regards to higher education, I cannot possibly conceive a more beneficial experience for the young intellectual than that of formal college education. While I plan to apply to Georgetown, Boston College, UMass Amherst and Brown University, I also have begun the application process for the United States Military Academy at West Point. Despite the differences from traditional college, I strongly aspire to attend West Point to fulfill my desire for purposeful service to the country and community, and for the physical, mental, and moral betterment of myself and my fellow personages. While my desire to attend West Point stems from my personal experience, and experience in scouting and as an Eagle Scout, my desire for formal post-high school education has existed since elementary school, and it has since been reinforced by my instructors, parental figures, and by my own personal convictions and beliefs. In conclusion, I bring a wide range of social and civic experiences, and most importantly I am strongly grounded in my own beliefs, but liberally open to discussion and development, providing excellent grounds for participation in this summer’s Urban Initiative program. In the words of the great Whitman, “the powerful play goes on”, and I can only anticipate that my contributed verse is met with thought provoking dialogue in the community.

Happy Reading!

SOC 350 blog post – Child homelessness in New Bedford

Child homelessness in New Bedford

Authors: Jessica Jorge, Carmelle Phillipe, Michaela Mello,students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)


Homelessness is experienced by children, families and adults with or without disabilities. Homelessness affects all people whether they are homeless themselves or know of someone who has become homeless. Although homelessness can affect all people it occurs disproportionately among people of color. Our research specifically concentrated on children and their education. Being a homeless child, it can have a great impact on a child’s performance and education. As a result a homeless child is less likely to be successful in their studies. This was our hypothesis that we developed in order to help us achieve a better understanding to our main research question; “What is it like to be a homeless child going to school?”

In order to answer this question, we also came up with sub-questions to better understand the issues of child homelessness. These sub-questions included:

  • How is homelessness defined?
  • Who experiences homelessness?
  • What is the homeless population like in New Bedford?
  • How did these children become homeless?
  • How does being homeless affect a child’s education and learning?
  • How are their families affected as a whole?

The research methods we used to answer these questions were interviews, observations, archival research, and data analysis. Through these approaches, we were able to gain insight into the issue of child homelessness. It also helped us to answer our research questions as we were able to see how a child is affected by homelessness and the impact that homelessness has on a child’s education.

Below is an example of some of the data we used in developing answers for our research question. There are a total of fourteen middle and high schools in New Bedford. Of those schools we were able to compare the differences between the school, district and state. We concentrated on three of the most known schools; Keith Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School and New Bedford High School. The graph below is just one of the graphs we used for Keith Middle School. The data we found we were able to use and analyze the differences in the percentages of those with limited English proficiency, low income and students in special education. The low income percentage for each schools where extremely high which we found crucial to our findings of our overall research to why the dropout rates and homelessness is extremely high in New Bedford.

child homelessnessThis data represents the risk behaviors and different factors that can affect a student in school and the comparison between students who are homeless and who are not. In the Protective factors section on the graph (below) we see that homeless students do not receive the necessary help and support as do housed students. Risk behaviors shows that homeless students develop a higher risk for drug abuse and gang violence. This was another important finding that helps us show the many influences that can affect a student’s education and the negative effects for a homeless student as well.

child homelessness2Below is also some data analysis that we found helpful for our research:

  • In the 2012-2013 school year, 432 students in the New Bedford Public Schools were homeless
  • This equals 3.4% of the school district
  • This is double the state percentage (1.7%)
  • In the United States, 1 in 45 children are considered homeless
  • Child and Family Homelessness is considered an “escalating crisis” and an “epidemic” but data is difficult to obtain because the homeless population is largely considered “invisible”

There are multiple definitions of homelessness; federal, state, McKinney-Vento or a person’s personal opinion. They all have one thing in common, that the realization that homelessness affects everyone and it has a great impact on a community.

Through the findings of our project, we were able to see that homeless children have many educational disadvantages compared to children who are housed. We stress the concept of more public policies for the issue of homeless children and families. There are many things that can be done to help and support these homeless children however without the public policies to be enforced there would be no change. Support services that enhance and expand the academic environment for children, like Horizons for Homeless Children, is needed to give extra support to children who are homeless. Children who are homeless need more academic support than children who are not homeless because they not only face struggles in their academics but they also face emotional, physical and social issues. It is necessary to implement educational programs into homeless shelters in order to end the cycle of homelessness for children.

Homelessness is not a choice or an option.Homelessness can be a temporary or a lifetime living situation. Improving public policies would provide more programs which focus on kids who are homeless. Another idea is a program which can guide the parents of homeless children to help improve their living situation and focus more on education. Another concept would be similar to the no child left behind act but by having homeless children survivors become mentors to those who are currently in shelters or homeless. Limitations to our project was not being able to survey as much children as we would like. That limitation did not hinder us from finding an exceptional amount of information to strengthen our findings.

This project has contributed to our academic/professional growth because it has allowed us to do research on a global issue but narrow it down to a neighborhood such as New Bedford. Researching homelessness within a local neighborhood has opened doors of awareness of how we can make change possible. Knowing the impact on what homelessness can do to a child has allowed us to know that we can be a helping hand as well. Academically the research has enhanced our interpersonal skills with one another and our researching skills to reach out to programs like Fall River Family Center and Horizons for Homeless Children which allow us to know about resources which we can refer to students of New Bedford.