Earth and Environmental Sciences
Geographies of Elementary School Co-Location
Caroline Loomis is a PhD candidate in Geography, whose work focuses on social reproduction, race, childhood and gentrification. Her dissertation considers how children, families and educators experience the partitioning and reconfiguring of urban school spaces. Caroline brings a background in youth work and food justice to her scholarship, and currently serves as an Instructional Technology Fellow at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, where she supports creative pedagogical practices and meaningful integrations of technology. She holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Vassar College.
Caroline’s current research considers the siting of multiple schools within public school buildings – a process known as co-location. While widely practiced in New York City—and a growing trend in the urban United States—co-location is notably under-researched. As a geographer, Caroline studies the school both as a space itself and within its larger urban geographic context. Grounded in questions of racial capitalism, social reproduction, and critical childhood studies, her research asks how children, families, and educators experience the partitioning of school buildings and reconfiguration of educational environments, and takes seriously children’s perspectives and experiences of these arrangements.
Swing open the heavy front doors of a New York City school building and approach the security desk, and there’s a good chance you’ll be met with the question, “Which school are you going to?” Here in New York City, new charter and small public schools are regularly sited within larger public school buildings in a process known as co-location. In these partitioned buildings, children in different uniforms pass one another in the halls, take turns eating lunch in the cafeteria and playing in the gym, and follow different schedules and rules. Each school has its own materials and budget; differences in resources can be apparent. While the practice is widespread in the City, and has gained media and political attention here (including having featured prominently in current mayor Bill de Blasio’s first election campaign), there has been very limited scholarly research on the subject. My work aims to fill this gap in research by taking an interdisciplinary approach to understanding co-location—bridging the fields of geography, urban education, and critical childhood studies and entering into conversation with scholarship on racial capitalism, social reproduction, the neoliberal city, and uneven schooling.
The siting of new schools—especially charter schools—within existing district school buildings has been contentious: Department of Education hearings fill with parents advocating for and against proposed co-locations. My research engages these debates, and extends into the day-to-day life of the co-located school building. As a geographer, I want to understand the spatial dynamics of co-location—the relationships that it both reflects and produces. As a scholar of childhood, race, and social reproduction, my work centers how children themselves experience and understand these spaces and relationships. I hope to contribute significantly to ongoing policy debates over co-location by offering an analysis of what children, families, and educators experience and learn about themselves, the world, and each other through the process. These findings will illuminate co-location policy and impacts in New York City, as well as in the cities around the United States where co-location is also being practiced or may be taken up in the near future.
With the support of the New York Connect Fellowship, I have begun my research with intensive ethnographic fieldwork in one co-located school. Drawing on research traditions in children’s geographies and critical childhood studies, I joined a fourth grade classroom during the spring semester as a participant-observer. I moved with the class through their days, got hit in the face with a dodgeball during gym class, stopped joking when the teacher called for our attention, and huddled over math worksheets—all with the intent of understanding how co-location shapes and configures the daily life of students in a co-located school. Two months into participant-observation, I also began to conduct multi-method interviews with children, teachers, administrators and parents in the school.
I conducted map-making workshops with the students, in which they worked in pairs to draw mental maps of the school building, enhance their maps with emotion stickers, and explain their maps to one another. With the same 19 children, I conducted walking tours (“go-along interviews”), in which they led me through the school building, describing and discussing what we saw along the way. During this time period, I conducted group interviews as well, with six parents and 11 teachers, and individual interviews with 14 school-based adults.
This was an incredibly rich period of ethnographic research, continuing through the end of June. In addition to brief observations of the site during summer school and summer camp, I have spent the past few weeks sorting through my notes and materials and preparing to resume my fieldwork with the start of the school year. I will use these methods with parents, children, and teachers in other co-located schools (both within the same building and beyond). At this mid-point in my research, I am excited to continue my conversations and observations—and to keep learning about the complexities of co-location, towards the goal of bettering our collective understanding of it as a policy and practice.