Fern Khan: Bank Street Dean Forges Social Work,
Community Outreach & Continuing Education Into Powerful Force for Change
With over 25 programs and 13 full-time directors, the Division of Continuing Education at Bank Street College is a truly impressive example of the successful coupling of dynamic, imaginative leadership with a mission to help children "grow and learn to their full potential." In 1989, Fern Khan, trained as a social worker and at the time associate dean in the Division of Adult and Continuing Education at LaGuardia Community College, was hired by Bank Street to design and head a department that would reach out to the community. Khan saw continuing education as a "wonderful umbrella that encompasses all kinds of programs and gives you the freedom to think about what is happening in society and how to address its needs. It is a wonderful pathway for people to use their creative juices, do good at the same time, and impact many people."
The result of her vision is a panoply of programs that last year involved 13,000 students of all ages, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members in settings as diverse as Upper West Side Bank Street College itself, public classrooms around the nation from the Bronx to Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, as well as the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester. To strengthen state legislated Universal Pre-K, the division's Center for Universal Pre-K offers both professional development and direct service programs. Teachers who may have taught fifth or sixth grade are trained to work with three and four-year olds. Pre-school staffs around the city are helped to "grow and learn." A Bank Street Head Start program, now federally mandated to include reading instruction, serves 60 children in a facility established for homeless families on East 13th Street. Liberty Partnership, a 14 year-old after-school program for middle and high school students is funded by the state for "children at risk for dropping out of school." Held at the college every day and Saturday where it is seen as enrichment, it includes academic, college prep, recreational, social, and emotional components. It can boast that 97 percent of the 230 recent students in the program graduated from high school and went on to higher education.
Khan explains that as needs change, the program is adjusted. This past year, in response to fifth-graders with difficulties in school, a "learning clinic" was established where Bank Street graduate students tutor while recognizing different "learning styles." It is not uncommon to hear a fifth grader explain, "I'm a visual reader." In the convenient settings of local public schools, a state-funded family literacy program, Even Start, trains parents in skills ranging from parenting, ESL, and pre-GED to reading. Recognizing the impact of the classroom on students' lives, the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice helps teachers, social workers, and administrators combine their strengths to bring about and support strong family and teacher-student relationships.
The Continuing Education Division, is involved in many collaborations. It takes special pride in New Beginnings, an ongoing very successful program of professional development and classroom enrichment in the public schools in Newark, New Jersey that has resulted in dramatic improvement in student performance and teacher satisfaction and advancement. In support of its mission to "impact public education," Bank Street is developing a model for a more meaningful use of the arts in schools in Queens in partnership with 5 cultural institutions in the borough, the Department of Education, and PASE (the Partnership for Afterschool Education). In I Lead (Institute for Leadership, Excellence, and Academic Development), an afterschool enrichment program funded by Goldman Sachs, mostly black, underrepresented children are prepared for college in order to "enlarge the pool of tomorrow's leaders in a global economy." The Bank Street director of Learns, a national partnership program, travels around the country and prepares tutors and volunteers for roles in public schools. By invitation from the Albuquerque Board of Education, Bank Street staff visits the city's schools several times a year to work with early childhood teachers and train them to mentor other professionals. Here, as elsewhere, programs are tailored to meet the community's particular needs. Two programs are offered at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Bank Street is part of a consortium of 12 colleges and universities that offers college-level courses to inmates. The goal is a college degree, but positive changes are seen even in women who take only one course. Also, a certificate program involving 72 hours of classroom instruction in childcare skills is given. Graduates may work in the Bedford Hills childcare facility or with inmates and children during family visits. "Parenting behind bars" gives inmates the resources to communicate with their children's caregivers and have input in their lives. "It makes them feel like human beings again," explains Khan.
The only tuition-based program in the division is New Perspectives. Offered to teachers and other professionals on week-ends and during the summer, it includes courses in specific areas such as special education and early childhood development. It allows professionals to talk about issues of concern in a safe environment and come up with strategies, and it gives continuing education a role in public education. Director of the Center for Universal Pre-K, Maria Benejan, can be reached at (212) 961-3410.
Fern Khan is particularly enthusiastic about the Long Trip, an annual visit by graduate students and faculty to a place of special interest in order to "experience another culture and people who are different from you. People feel good that we want to come and meet them," she explains, and "we feel good being there. Friendships and collaborations result." Khan's social work training is always evident as is the inspiration of her mentors, who include, at LaGuardia Community College, Joe Shenker (now provost of C.W. Post), Augusta Kappner (now president of Bank Street), and Ann Marcus (now at NYU). Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark exposed her to the cutting edge of practice at their Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem where she worked as a social worker. "I'm lucky," declares this visionary. "I've worked with women and men who've allowed me to take risks."#