The Reciprocity Reframe: Reciprocity Boston

Building a Bolder and Better Boston

Communities throughout the country are crying out for change. For too long, communities such as those in Boston, Massachusetts, have borne the burden of outdated approaches from central offices and departments of education “to fix them” without taking into account the voices of those families, students, and other individuals who actually live there. This already adverse reality has been worsened by COVID’s cruelties. But with adversity comes opportunity—and in this case, Reciprocity.

The Reciprocity Project is a bold and innovative approach that empowers communities to reimagine schools as reciprocal institutions designed to increase community health and prosperity. This work transforms schools from instruments of the status quo into agents of opportunity. In this process, not only does student academic performance improve in a culturally respectful and responsive manner, but so do community developed outcomes.

To date schools have been missed opportunities for community development. Rather than dismantling negative social determinants and increasing opportunity, most schools’ factory model approaches institutionalize such determinants as part of a structural effort to maintain the status quo. The education sector continues to show that it does not recognize the magnitude of the problem and therefore offers few viable solutions. For this reason, we need a new approach grounded in community voice and agency. As one of our partners from the Harbor Point Community emphasized, “the issue is NOT that our communities are ‘broken’ or need ‘fixing'”; it is that educational decision makers “simply don’t include us.” Reciprocity schools, by contrast, focus on supporting, not sorting; serving, not silencing.

Our new model proposes:

> The 3Rs: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic are not enough; we also need 3 New Rs: Respect, Relationships, and Reciprocity.

> Moving away from the idea of simply taking input from the community to the co-construction of solutions with Community Voice and Ownership, because the answers are in the community.

> Traditional test-based measures of success are not the answer. We focus instead on Results Based Accountability built on collaboration with those communities we serve by asking: What did we do? How well did we do it? Is anyone better off?

We have already started this vital work of reciprocity in Dorchester’s Harbor Point Community and plan to expand to all parts of Boston. Success will be measured by addressing the social determinants and academic needs that have been identified by families and young people throughout our city.

At CCE we are listeners and learners, scholars, and storytellers, but most of all, passionate partners in the effort to empower communities based on the assets they already possess. We have decades of experience in everything from recruiting and training diverse teachers, to replacing outdated models of learning, and we are excited to help our city through collaboration and inclusivity. Our ears and community voices will combine to create bold new choices and Build a Better Boston for everyone.