“Teacher villages” breaking ground in many communities

The press releases, the Facebook messages and the e-reminders began in earnest last week: Teacher Appreciation Week was coming soon. And so it has arrived on Monday, along with a bevy of recommendations and ideas on how to recognize and honor the work of these everyday unsung heroes.

Forget the apples and the baked goods, one advised. Consider a donation or volunteer in the classroom, another urged. Sign a pledge or a card that simply says thank you, another suggested. All good ideas but a project currently underway in Philadelphia (and Newark, Baltimore and other cities) is a great example of how to truly help teachers and the communities they serve.

I was surprised to learn about an initiative in Philadelphia to convert an old dye factory into housing and office space marketed toward teachers and non-profit education organizations, the former of which will be enticed by deep discounts made possible by federal and state tax credits. But I was really surprised to learn that the Philadelphia project is modeled after mixed-use developments opened in Baltimore a few years back and that a similar center is in the midst of construction in Newark, NJ.

And lest you think these projects are only popping up in urban areas, West Virginia’s McDowell County is currently searching for a property to rehab and turn into a “teachers village” as part of a large-scale effort led by the American Federation of Teachers to revitalize the old coal mining town and bring back opportunities for growth and employment.

Affordable housing, a chance at developing roots in the community and support-systems at home— these public-private partnerships do more than provide lip-service to the challenges teachers face, they actually provide a solution. This is work we all can appreciate.

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