Prof. Weissinger teaches and does research on African American communities in the College of Arts and Sciences. Prof. Werner teaches and does research on construction and structural materials, construction methods, and engineering education for k-12 students.
On Thursday, July 18, 2019, Derissa, Sandra, and Connie met at a local restaurant for lunch to get acquainted and to learn about Derissa’s vision for WP. Derissa shared that she owned one-third of an acre lot in WP just a few blocks from James Avant Elementary School, where the community garden would eventually be located. Because Derissa is a proud resident and passionate teacher in WP, she was clear in her desire that the children of WP have access to the same resources that children in more affluent communities have. Derissa noted that her students and their families struggle with food insecurity and lack safe places to play. Derissa, furthermore, is deeply concerned about the lack of educational enrichment opportunities for WP children. As children from more affluent communities continue to gain access to resources such as STEM centers and cutting-edge technology, the class and racial equity gaps will continue to grow between her students and others.
Washington Park is located in St. Clair County, is less than 3 square miles of land, and borders East St. Louis to the west. WP currently has a population of around four thousand residents, down from approximately 7,500 residents in 1990. Just over 18 percent of the population is 14 years old or younger. WP is home to James Avant Elementary School (JAES), where Derissa teaches. JAES serves approximately 500 children enrolled in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.
The partnership between Derissa and SSCC kicked off in the fall semester with three sociology courses and one construction management course engaged with The Tiny Children’s Garden (TTCG). On August 22 2019, the first week of the semester, Derissa came to SIUE to meet the students in SOC 515 and to share her vision and goals.
In our next chapter, you’ll meet the first cohort of students. Stay tuned!