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Engaging Residents in Community Change: The Critical Role of Trust in the Development of a Promise Neighborhood


by Joanna D. Geller, Bernadette Doykos, Krista Craven, Kimberly D. Bess & Maury Nation — 2014

Background: Currently, there is great enthusiasm surrounding place-based initiatives for school reform, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and other initiatives that attend to the multiple contexts that influence child development. However, past efforts to bridge schools, families, and communities have been undermined by mistrust between and among stakeholders. Although trust is a building block for effective collaboration, there is little deliberate attention to cultivating it.

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to use a case example of a low-income neighborhood currently developing a Promise Neighborhoods initiative to explore how variations in trust between and among community residents, local institutions, and school staff in the problem definition and assessment phase may threaten or facilitate the success of the initiative.

Setting: We conducted this study in a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood in a midsize southeastern city.

Participants: There were 44 participants, including parents, school administrators and staff, service providers, and high school students.

Research Design: We used qualitative research methods, including eight focus groups and observations.

Data Collection and Analysis: Focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Multiple researchers coded the transcripts. Trust emerged as a key theme through open coding, and we used focused coding to explore this theme in detail.

Findings: The findings corroborate previous studies that have found relatively low levels of relational trust between residents, between residents and local institutions, and between residents and school staff. Additionally, we identified “seeds of trust” that indicate opportunities to cultivate trusting relationships between stakeholders that can be developed and replicated in this neighborhood and others undertaking similar initiatives.

Conclusions: Promise Neighborhoods and similar initiatives should intentionally address low levels of trust through activities such as community asset mapping, programs with a deliberate relational focus, and partnerships with agencies that address the systematic roots of trust.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 4, 2014, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17412, Date Accessed: 12/12/2017 4:30:13 PM

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About the Author
  • Joanna Geller
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    JOANNA D. GELLER, Ph.D. student in Community Research and Action at Vanderbilt University, researches community mobilization for educational reform and partnerships between teachers, families, community members, community-based organizations, and students. Current publications under consideration include, “How Do Varying Types of Youth Civic Engagement Predict Perceptions of School Climate?” and “Broader, Bolder . . . and Better? Learning from the Past to Inform the Future of Promise Neighborhoods.”
  • Bernadette Doykos
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    BERNADETTE DOYKOS, Ph.D. student in Community Research and Action at Vanderbilt University, conducts mixed-methods research examining how students’ multiple social and educational settings impact their educational aspirations, expectations, and attainment. Her current work examines the global social networks of support that students from traditionally underrepresented college-going populations tap into while navigating the path to postsecondary education. Publications currently under consideration include: “Identifying Comprehensive Support Structures to Span the College Access Gap” and “An Ecological Approach to Dropout in a South African Township.”
  • Krista Craven
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    KRISTA CRAVEN is a Ph.D. student in the Community Research and Action program at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on social and educational injustices, immigration, and youth-led community organizing.
  • Kimberly Bess
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    KIMBERLY D. BESS, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, studies comprehensive change initiatives aimed at improving the educational and health outcomes for children and families living in high-poverty communities and enhancing community well-being. In this research she focuses on inter-organizational collaboration and social network dynamics. Her current work investigates the development and implementation of Nashville Promise Neighborhood. Recent publications include, “Ecological Contexts in the Development of Coalitions for Youth Violence Prevention: An Organizational Network Analysis,” Health Education and Behavior (2012), and “A Heuristic Framework for Understanding the Role of Participatory Decision Making in Community-Based Non-profits,” American Journal of Community Psychology (2011).
  • Maury Nation
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    MAURY NATION, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Human and Organizational Development, has his Ph.D. in clinical and community psychology. He has worked in and with schools for the past 15 years implementing and evaluating programs and practices designed to promote youth development (including academic achievement), and prevent poor developmental outcomes. His published work includes “Levels of Community Engagement in Youth Violence Prevention: The Role of Power in Sustaining Successful University-Community Partnerships,” American Journal of Community Psychology (2011), and “The Longitudinal Effects of Residential Mobility on the Academic Achievement of Urban Elementary and Middle School Students,” Educational Researcher (2012).
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