New Orleans Health Development Initiative: Toward a Learning Society



In order to offer an appropriate perspective on the initiative outlined herein, the following quotation from No Limits to Learning: Bridging the Human Gap, A Report to the Club of Rome, (1978, reissued 1998) is submitted for the reader’s consideration:

“The purpose of this project is to bring to the forefront two intertwined questions which are fundamental to the survival and development of mankind.

One is whether what we call progress is perhaps so hectic and haphazard that world populations are utterly confused and out of step with the waves of change it causes for better or worse.  The idea implicit to this question is, though highly advanced in other ways, modern men and women are as yet unable to grasp fully the meaning and consequences of what they are doing.  Failing to understand the mutations they bring about in the natural environment and their own condition, they come to be increasingly at odds with the real world.  This is the human gap – already large and dangerous, and yet destined almost inevitably to get much wider.

The second question is, then, whether present trends can be controlled and the gap bridged before a tragic and grotesque fate overtakes homo sapiens.  To give a positive answer to this question, one must assume that the human being possesses still untapped resources of vision and creativity as well as moral energies that can be mobilized to bail humankind out of its predicament.  This may indeed seem a far-fetched assumption, but many of us consider it perfectly valid.  The average person, even when living in deprivation and obscurity, is endowed with an innate brain capacity, and hence a learning ability, which can be stimulated and enhanced far beyond current relatively modest levels.”

Aurelio Peccei, Founder, The Club of Rome (From The Forward)

I                  Confluence of Factors Creating Current Circumstances in New Orleans

The city of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina consistently appeared at the bottom of all national education, health, poverty, crime, and economic development rankings. Hurricane Katrina dramatized these longstanding negative circumstances and created significant new challenges regarding neighborhood viability, educational restructuring, lack of health and mental health facilities and delivery options, lack of affordable housing and resulting homelessness, especially among youth returning to New Orleans without their families, insufficient economic opportunities, and escalating violence and crime.

Lack of leadership over several decades in the major areas necessary to produce vibrant urban communities has created these acute deficiencies.  Our public school system has failed to deliver appropriate education to generations of students. Instead of producing graduates prepared to confront the rapidly changing social and economic environment of the 21st century, our schools have characteristically failed students. Students were not provided with: (a) the academic skills needed to meet grade-level standards; (b) the motivation to advance through a meaningful educational system; or, (c) a positive attitude toward education and life long learning. Rather our schools created significant numbers of drop-outs dramatically unprepared to participate as self-sufficient contributing members of the community. Left to their own devices, a life of crime for some has seemed the only available option. For others, learned helplessness (Seligman) has been a major outcome. Clearly, without appropriate education, employment opportunities are severely limited.

Efforts to address the steadily increasing numbers of people mired in poverty have not taken hold.  The depression and despair resulting from poverty exert a negative impact on health status, including lack of understanding of health enhancement measures.  Ineffective education and a population unable to embrace a healthy and violence free lifestyle directly affect the ability of a community to grow its economic opportunities and protect its citizens. To compound these matters, the city of New Orleans continues to struggle with the aftermath of Katrina which includes:

(a) neighborhood networks severed due to widespread dispersal of former residents

(b) lack of affordable housing;

(c) lack of health and mental health information and accessible facilities;

(d) continuing lack of varied long term employment options;

(e) increased homelessness among youth, and (f) escalating violence.

II.                  Addressing the Issues

Although these negative conditions may seem insurmountable, they can be reversed dramatically through comprehensive and systematic programs mounted in individual neighborhoods across the city.  The theoretical approaches and methods used by such demonstration programs can be derived from a growing body of knowledge from many disciplines that collectively have the potential to transform entire neighborhoods. These data gathered over multiple decades emphasize psychological and emotional development as the basic building block for all healthy human development, and illuminate how our environments contribute to individual and group outcomes. What we have learned from psychology, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, business, education, and medicine illuminate certain characteristics of highly effective learning societies that have the power to promote individual growth and empower entire communities. Research from business shows for example that learning organizations focused on the ongoing learning and growth of individual members report higher levels of satisfaction and, more often than not, productivity. (Boyatzis, 2001) Healthy communities understand and embrace:

(1) learning society approaches that value and promote life long learning in order to appropriately respond to relentless, twenty first century technological, economic and social change (Senge, 1990);

(2) emotional intelligence research demonstrating at least sixty percent of the characteristics accounting for success in life are derived from personal and social competence, or emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1997) and; confluent education strategies that integrate academic and social – emotional development within all education settings and social environments (Brown, 1975)

(3) ways to focus on education as the center of community life, ensuring that the highest quality learning experiences possible are provided to all (Drucker, 1994);

(4) healthy lifestyle options regarding nutrition, exercise and positive personal health strategies as a route to greater quality of life and longevity (Institute of Medicine, 2001);

(5) a focus on developing and attracting highly creative people, shown to contribute significantly to the success of organizations and communities (Florida, 2002);

(6) development of each individuals’ capacity to represent their own (long term) self interest, understanding it as inseparable from the whole – family, community, and society e.g., the more fully developed the person, the more value to self and to society (Maslow, 1971);

(7) a focus on community relationships that are the underpinnings of community security as a necessary ingredient for fostering “community” within neighborhoods (Earls, 2004);

(8) citizen participation as essential for community cohesiveness and ongoing progress toward goals (Future America Model Neighborhood Concept, 2007);

(9) the value of fostering a diverse stock of social networks and civic associations, that is social capital, which strengthen a community, enabling it to confront poverty and vulnerability, resolve disputes and take advantage of new opportunities (Putnam, 2002)

III                  Comprehensive, Multi-Level, Data – Based Innovation

Complexity of factors resulting in prolonged neglect of the large underserved population in New Orleans requires comprehensive, multi-level, data-based innovations in order to reverse the full complement of longstanding negative community outcomes.  Under the auspices of the Health Department of the City of New Orleans, a collaborative partnership will be established formally. The founding members are projected to be The Office of Recovery Management of the City of New Orleans, the Recovery School District, and the City Health Department. Other partners will be actively recruited to join the effort. The model for such a consortium, referred to as The Comprehensive Community Health Collaborative / New Orleans (CCHC/NO) can be found in the Healthy Cities Movement sponsored by the World Health Organization (

After creating cohesion within itself, this initial capacity building group will serve as the catalyst and organizing entity for supporting and implementing programs at the neighborhood level, neighborhood by neighborhood. At this level, individual community programs will be comprised of working partners with members drawn from neighborhood civic, social, cultural and economic development groups, existing neighborhood businesses, community non profit and faith-based organizations, health care and social service providers, and of course all educational entities serving both children and adults, before, during and after regular school hours.

In this manner, CCHC will reposition the mandates of education, housing, employment and community social and physical environments within the public health arena. This legitimate integration across sectors illuminates the critical perspective that the health of all individuals is inextricably linked to the health of the cultural, physical and social environments in which they reside or are immersed, and these environments, and all individuals within them are tied to each other, as well as to the whole.

It is envisioned that each individual neighborhood will become a community “learning laboratory” in which each person is nurtured and empowered to grow to their fullest capacity. Schools will become the “center of community life,” learning centers where all community members are valued and offered a wide variety of educational, economic, and health and wellness opportunities.  All environments and interactions across settings will be structured to foster a positive attitude toward human growth and innate potential.

A rich foundation, pioneered in New Orleans provides concrete strategies for implementing these positive values, perceptions and behaviors within all settings and transactions (Workshop Way, 1988).  Learning and growth are not confined to a traditional academic view of education. Rather, it is the kind of learning and growth that recognizes human beings grow in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health as they become more aware of the facets of personal development and their value, and of each person’s unfolding ability to discover opportunity for growth in virtually every moment of everyday life.

IV                   A Capacity Building Model

The vision of each neighborhood demonstration program is to transform previously underserved members of the community into life long learners through participation in these new educational, health prevention / wellness and economic programs based upon the important theoretical foundations presented above. The primary focus of the project will be placed on building the capacity within individuals and the neighborhood social networks to become major decision makers, and project managers in each individual neighborhood. The following features of the demonstration program are considered essential to its operation in every neighborhood.

A. Essential Features

1. Identifying and empowering a viable neighborhood structure or existing network to function as the vehicle in that community for securing widespread  neighborhood involvement and participation in activities to be implemented.  Focus will be placed upon the rapid integration of community members into organizational leadership positions within the learning community demonstration program. A Neighborhood Creative Council (NCC) will operate as a “think tank” that oversees and tracks progress, and offers advise and resources to all individual neighborhood network initiatives, and interfaces with the CCHC to offer needed training, research, marketing and advertising assistance. Initial efforts are devoted to constituting the Neighborhood Creative Council (NCC) by recruiting members from community, institutional, business, governmental, and neighborhood organizations. The NCC is responsible for ensuring overall fidelity to the community vision, and for providing creative direction as the demonstration model is advanced over time throughout the neighborhood.

2. Establishing a formal relationship with the neighborhood school(s) through a formal contract to operate the community elementary school in a manner that focuses on development of psychological health, (foundational / intellectual) creativity and emotional intelligence.

3. Organizing and securing funding to transform the school into a vital community learning center offering activities for both children and adults, before and after traditional school hours. Multiple and diverse components of the community learning center will be identified by neighborhood participants from a menu of possibilities as well as novel components the participants themselves create. The initiation of each component in a given neighborhood will be coordinated by the community participants in a stepwise fashion that corresponds to identified need and interest, site readiness, capacity, and funding.

B. Planned Component Options

The following example ‘neighborhood network’ components may be established at the neighborhood level but will vary according to the priorities, needs, interests and resources relevant to each neighborhood.

Victory Gardens Urban Farm Initiative

A contemporary version of WW II era Victory Gardens, this is a major “greening the neighborhood” project covering as many as fifty vacant or adjudicated lots. Planting includes organic vegetables, herbs, flowers, and small orchards of fruit bearing trees, as well as decorative trees on neutral grounds and city property.  Initiative is designed to both sell and provide food and other products for community consumption, educate children and adults, provide employment, and allow participants to “connect” with the natural world.  Economically viable products will be developed and marketed under a neighborhood brand.

Kid’s Cafe

Second Harvester’s provides funding and organizational props for a once – a – week, restaurant dining experience for 100 or more young folks as a social-emotional growth opportunity.  Kid’s Cafés have a corporate sponsor that provides chaperons and mentors to dine with the children.  Children serve as waiters as well as guests.  Café can eventually serve food grown in school/community gardens.

21st Century Community Learning Center Grant

A U.S. Department of Education after – school / community education grant provides funds for full scale, year-round educational, cultural and skills development programs for both children and adults.

Neighborhood Brand

A product development and marketing group for neighborhood branded merchandise (t-shirts, hats, aprons. bumper stickers, etc.).  This is a brand development business designed to support community effort through image promotion and funding.

Elder Corps

Retired business people seeking a third career in a unique social entrepreneurial network that seeks to produce conditions wherein participants assume responsibility for self development.  AARP will be asked to assist in recruiting skilled management / mentor personnel to participate in development of these neighborhood entrepreneurial business start-ups.

A Village Store and Tech Center

A catalog store that delivers in minutes or hours, not days, to neighborhood depot where residents order, and pick up, merchandise from local suburban retail outlets, not easily accessible, like: Wal Mart, Home Depot, K – Mart, Target, Whole Foods, etc.  All done with custom developed, state of the art technology. Store doubles as a technology learning center for community members, as well as catalog store.

This is an entrepreneurial delivery enterprise that picks up merchandise from outlying stores and delivers to specific neighborhoods.  A coop among big stores will be suggested as a way to fund start-up of a business that will provide sales they would otherwise lose.

Vegetable Carts, Inc

New York City recently added 2500 new Green Carts to its neighborhood fleet.  It is an excellent response to lack of availability of fresh vegetables, a good employment / business education opportunity, and a potential business venture for the neighborhood entrepreneurial network.

Coffee Products

An entrepreneurial “coffee extract” enterprise producing a product that is healthier (less acid), and has a larger variety of applications: instant fresh coffee, coffee syrup for ice cream, instant fresh cafe au lait and a variety of iced coffees, and sparkling coffee or coffee soda.  Business will serve as business education endeavor wherein one learns (how to run a business), and is paid for working (for the business).  It will be a joint venture of community members and “Elder Corps.”

Product Distribution Enterprise

A distribution business for products such as sea salt and peppercorn grinders for restaurants, (manufactured by McCormick or Spice Island or Alessi), or a glazed pottery “cold water coffee maker” (produced by a former Newcomb College Pottery Instructor) for distribution to upscale outlets, and as corporate business gifts.  Distribution organization serves as economic enterprise and creative business education venue for community residents.   It is managed by an “Elder Corps” member hired by the  community to operate the business while teaching them how to run it.  Eventually distribution company can produce and distribute products made from the community’s garden products, like hot sauce made from the garden’s peppers, popsicles made from its fresh berries and fruits, etc.

*Key to the distribution company’s success is data from American Research Journal regarding “cause marketing” that shows Americans are willing to actually pay more for products when they identify with the values and mission of the business.

Community Health Club / Recreational Facility

A neighborhood playground, recreational facility and social center developed, organized and run by neighborhood residents with assistance from POG and Elder Corps.  This is kind of a health club for neighborhood children and adults, overseen by hired staff and providing organized fitness and health enhancement opportunities as well as numerous events such as Xmas (toy) festivals, and August School Supply events.

A Resource Room

Innovative concept and highly creative design for a resource center inside or outside of school, focused on how to navigate the city’s systems, and where to go for assistance with anything provided by local sources, i.e. education opportunities, health issues, jobs, transportation, housing, etc.  It is for parents and community residents, and is run by a community member.

Beauregard Parish School System Brain Development / Human Nature Learning Programs

These are initiatives successfully tested in a small, rural school district in which teachers, principals and administrators taught each other and all personnel who interacted with children about current brain science research and a scientific perspective on what we call our human nature.  A separate parenting program delivers the same information to parents of newborns and young children, and to pregnant women.

The Bodyworks

is a program developed for, and successfully implemented among preschool children who make a card board, life sized, model of their own body, including the “innards,” using items found around the house (plastic bags, straws. mop strings).  The program was received with great enthusiasm when tested among first graders in a New Orleans Public School, an initiative documented on video. The program can be designed to increase in complexity throughout school.   The developer has authored a detailed book on the (socially – emotionally) developmentally positive responses of children to the program.

Free To Be Kids, Inc.

is a comprehensive child development center that begins with parent(s) and infants as young as six weeks, immersing both in a “psychological learning matrix” derived from confluent education pedagogical design, and the “values of self transcendent man,”  as articulated by A. H. Maslow. FTBK is designed to serve parents and children through   Age 5.

V                   Toward a Learning Society Initiative: Planning, Organization and Implementation Stages

CCHC/NO founding sponsors will authorize a Project Operations Group (POG) to develop and manage a “Health Development Research Project” (HDRP) it seeks to sponsor as a New Orleans’ Healthy Cities Movement initiative.

HDRP organizational components include:

  1. a neighborhood demonstration “mini learning society” model that features a “community school / community learning center” as the hub of neighborhood life;
  2. Pre – K (confluent education) installations in three to five separate neighborhoods as demonstration models (of confluent social environments) and “seed sites” for replication of neighborhood demonstration model, and;
  3. organization of a citywide, “confluent” health development, marketing communications campaign to prime the market for replication / expansion of the neighborhood and Pre – K models.

Initially, CCHC founding sponsors will each invite two other sponsor organizations and together select a Council of Learners as the CCHC / HDRP board of directors, as well as authorize a grant proposal prepared by New Orleans Health Department, to fund HDRP planning and organization stages, and CCHC sponsorship / membership marketing.  This original Council of Learners, and its state approved education management organization (EMO) will contract with the Recovery School District and LA Department of Education to operate the neighborhood elementary school as a “community school / community learning center” to be managed by POG and the EMO.

POG will be managed by co – directors, addressing creative direction and operations management, and two producers to handle information dissemination and structural development, and ensure transparency.   The operations group will include five coordinators to address specific issues: Research and Evaluation, Fund Raising and Grant Development, Technology Application, Marketing and Communications, and Education Operations who will participate in important organizational decisions regarding creative direction and operations management.

POG will establish relationships with local and national organizations as a Network of Strategic Partners able to add value to project operations, including:

  1. EdFutures, Inc., a Louisiana Department of Education authorized education management organization (EMO), to handle business administration of the community school / community learning center
  2. Center for Educational Research and Development, a Pre K – 12, professional development organization, to deliver to teachers and school personnel appropriate strategies and techniques for applying confluent education
  3. Future America Basic Research Institute, Inc., a research organization focused on “the science of the self in nature,” to organize self – development modules for teachers, school personnel and neighborhood network participants
  4. Turning Point Partners, Inc., a restorative practices organization, to assist in interviewing and preparation of teachers and school personnel for introduction to confluent education
  5. CASEL, Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, to advise on development and evaluation strategies
  6. Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, an international, primarily academic group, as research partners
  7. Society for Research on Child Development, as a source for innovative best practices in child development strategies and evaluation
  8. Society for Research on Adult Development, as a source of best practices, including research and evaluation of adult development

POG Pre K – 5 Elementary School Organizational Steps

  1. Present CCHC / Council of Learners implementation plan for conversion from traditional to confluent school operations
  2. Organize long tern, on-going, personal transformation (professional development) plan for all school personnel and key neighborhood initiative participants
  3. Develop communications campaign for benefits of “confluent” social environments
  4. Recruit key school personnel and schedule pre-opening professional development
  5. Establish website for all POG plans, activities and records

VI.                   CCHC and Confluent Education Benefits

CCHC Sponsorship / Membership Allows Organization or Individual to:

1      support a critical social initiative that joins other global cities in the Healthy Cities Movement;

2      track unfolding of the project in real time via an entry code to POG website;

3      elect members to Council of Learners; and

4      participate in social, informational, intellectual and cultural gatherings organized by CCHC.

Confluent Education Benefits:

  1. Capitalizes on addition of social – emotional growth strategies to the social environment of the classroom and school culture, (as well as community initiatives), now shown to produce an average eleven to seventeen percentile (11–17%) improvement on standardized tests
  2. Provides the most comprehensive, seamless route to adding social – emotional strategies as classroom deliverables
  3. Shown to produce significant improvement in social and emotional skills, attitudes about self, others, and school, and social and classroom behavior, as well as decreases in stress and depression
  4. Provides a “dual management system, one for teachers and one for students allowing students to feel “in control” of their own learning experience, and sewing the seeds of self awareness, self discipline and self responsibility
  5. Focuses on every child’s early discovery of the love of learning
  6. Transforms classrooms into highly creative social environments that energize teachers and students
  7. Provides each child a sense of belonging, respect for their human dignity and a sense of purpose, (often called our higher human values)
  8. Provides teachers with process to address any classroom possibility – a virtual script for the theater of the classroom
  9. Allows an average teacher to become a master teacher


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The Further Reaches of Human Nature, A. H. Maslow, 1971

The Live Classroom: Innovation through Confluent Education and Gestalt,        G. I. Brown, (Ed.) (with T. Yeomans, L. Grizzard), 1975

Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature, R.C. Lewontin, Steven Rose, & Leon J.Kamin. 1971

The (Workshop Way) First Grade Manual, G. H. Pilon, 1988

The Fifth DisciplineThe Art and Science of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge, 1990

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes,  Alfie Kohn, 1993

The Moral Animal: Why We Are The Way We are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Robert Wright, 1994

Emotioanal Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, 1995

Working With Emotional Intelligence, D. Goleman, 1997

Consilience, E. O. Wilson, 1998

A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Ruby K. Payne, 1998

The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards,”  Alfie Kohn, 1999

Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society, R. Putnam, 2002

Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida, 2005

A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, Dan Pink, 2005

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, M. Seligman, 2006

Intelligence and How to Get It, Richard Nisbett, 2009

DriveThe Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink, 2009

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Iain McGilchrist, 2009

The Empathic Civilization: The Race To Global Consciousness In A World In Crisis, Jeremy Rifkin, 2010

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman / with Greg Mc Keown, 2010

The Cave And The Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, Arthur Herman, 2013

The Nordic Secret: A European story of beauty and freedom, Lene Rachel Andresen& Tomas Bjorkman, 2017

Transcend: The New Science of Self Actualization, Scott Barry Kaufman, 2020

The Age of Social Transformation, Peter Drucker, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1994

The Benefits of School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Programs: A CASEL Report, 2008 – Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

“Where The Jobs Are,” Op-Ed Chart, New York Times, February 2004

No Limits to Learning, Bridging the Human Gap, A Report to the Club of Rome, 1979 / 1998

Harvard Business Review, January / February 2010

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