An iron-framed canopy covers the top stairway landing that leads to the main offices of Crossway Community. Metal silhouettes depicting a woman sitting down, cradling a child with one hand while holding the hand of a toddler with the other, decorate the canopy's front. The family is flanked by two doves. Underneath the canopy, the words "love" and "hope" are incised in block letters on one side of the frame, and "determination" and "initiative" on the opposite side. These words encapsulate the core values Crossway aims to encourage among the families they encounter, while simultaneously allowing opportunities for families to demonstrate and express those values in their own lives.
"We do that through a number of different activities that we have right on our campus," said .
The broad goals of Crossway include promoting independent living for single mothers, while placing an emphasis on community involvement. Crossway is a learning organization for all families, Guinan added, with emphasis on the word all.
"Whether they're in our residential program, which is called the Family Leadership School, whether they're in our school community, whether they're neighbors, whoever they are, all families are important to us," Guinan said. "And we try to deliver educational programs to meet the needs of families. That's it in a nutshell."
Learning by Living
Thirty-seven single mothers who are committed to making positive life changes for themselves and their children currently occupy on-campus housing units at Crossway Community.
"We create an adult learning agreement for them in four areas: Health and safety, family living, economic literacy, career and education," Guinan said.
As part of the pact, mothers in the Family Leadership School attend one-hour classes three times each week, while their children enjoy a meal sponsored by local families.
Kimberly Newman is one of the 37 mothers enrolled in the Family Leadership School, and she works part-time at Crossway Community's front office. Before joining Crossway in March 2010, her life was full. Newman worked at a local college and was studying at Howard University. She received a job promotion in 2008, and was also homeowner.
But Newman's life took a turn in 2009, when she was released from her job—two days before learning she was pregnant with her first child.
"I had a $2,200 mortgage, and the property value wasn't high enough so that I could rent out the property—couldn't come anywhere close," Newman said. "So within six months, I went through my savings and lost my home. So, I'm picking up the pieces now."
Since then, Newman has been offered a position at another college, but she chose to maximize the opportunities provided at Crossway Community.
"I had what I had before, but it was good for a single person," Newman said.
Preparation for the well-being of her 17-month-old son is her N0. 1 priority now. Part of that preparation includes completing her bachelor's degree.
"Coming here allowed me the opportunity to relax on one end," Newman said. She doesn't have to work two jobs to make mortgage payments and meet other expenses.
The Crossway experience is like a vehicle, Newman said, "but it's up to you how you drive it, and in what direction."
In Newman's case, the vehicle Crossway gives her is time to take classes through University of Maryland, University College. The online coursework, in turn, allows her to stay at home with her son. Newman plans to transfer the UMUC credits back to Howard University and complete a management degree with a marketing minor. She also plans to earn a master's degree. Through her job at Crossway, Newman is also learning other valuable information—reasons behind the Montessori teaching method, for example.
"It also allows me to see the things that I could do better for my son," she said.
Enriching the future
Crossway's research-based goal is to extend their nurturing educational community beyond the "Head Start" years to the third grade.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Head Start Impact Study Final Report released in January 2010, children who participate in early childhood learning programs do make significant learning gains. However, if those learning supports are not nurtured and continued beyond the pre-primary school years with consistent reinforcement, those gains are lost.
"The natural progression and best evidence is that if we can continue this through third grade," Guinan said, citing the New America Foundation, "the the likelihood to retain those gains is much higher," Anne Byrne continued. Byrne is Crossway's head of school. "And that's also evidenced by what Head Start experience is, that it's lost by grade two, those gains aren't solidified enough." Byrne added.
The nurturing begins early at Crossway. They currently have rooms especially for babies and toddlers from three to 24 months and plan to accept more babies and toddlers in the future. Their teaching staff also consists of highly qualified, master's level experts in their field, Guinan said.
Crossway has made plans to move forward with their educational vision by submitting a charter school application with Montgomery County Public Schools. The application was rejected last year, but the State Board of Education has directed the Montgomery County with mixed-age class groups.
"It's an interesting proposition," Guinan said. "And I really have confidence in the Montgomery County Board of Education that they are progressive and they'll see that this kind of social innovation is really right in line with what President Obama and Secretary Duncan are trying to model throughout the country."
Crossway aims to provide that self-contained, nurturing community for children three months to the third grade, the years crucial to reinforcing early social and cognitive gains.
Independent and community living
Crossway not only encourages and fosters a spirit of independence and community through the Family Leadership Program, they also instill those ideals in children enrolled in their Montessori program. Children are guided and encouraged to complete tasks for themselves, but also working with other students. For example, at lunchtime, students set their own tables, complete with child-sized settings—including little place mats. And Crossway Montessori students include children whose mothers are in the residential Family Leadership Program as well as children from the surrounding communities.
"So that's really what we're all about," Guinan said. "We attract people that want to use our services, whether it's the Montessori school, whether it's the Family Leadership School, whether it's the community center, that share our values of social justice, and that people do better when they're integrated cross class and culture."
She told the story of a doctor who wanted to volunteer and teach adjunct health education classes at Crossway. This doctor was driving down the street, saw a house for sale and thought it would be a great place where she and her husband could go to raise their children, so she bought the house.
"This model is about tapping into that reservoir of generosity that's out there in the Kensington-Wheaton community," Guinan said. "And also at the same time acknowledging that all families cross class and culture have needs and need a lift."
That lift could be the Montessori school, or parent education classes, a community center for their children, or use of a community garden. Crossway's community garden has about 15 plots, and there's a separate garden for the Montessori students.
Integral to the Crossway vision is creating new and maintaining already established community relationships with those Guinan calls community partners. Those partners include a local arts groups and mother's club who use the facilities for rehearsals and activities.
"Kensington is the true American community, because it embraces diversity, it's a welcoming, warm community that cares about social justice for all families," Guinan said. "It's evidenced by the outpouring of generosity and support that our organization's received for the past 20 years."
But creating such a community is no accident and requires long-term commitment.
"You have to have a vehicle for communities to come together across class and culture. It doesn't just happen," Guinan said. "You have to have a way to bring those diverse groups together. The other thing I think is so fantastic about being here is that in the Kensington community we have been able to provide that vehicle."