Brown and Providence Schools


For more than a half century, Brown University students, faculty and staff have engaged in programs and initiatives dedicated to making a positive, long-term impact on school children and teachers in Providence schools.

Brown’s enduring commitment to supporting teaching and learning in Providence’s K-12 classrooms dates back generations. Driven by a desire to make a positive impact in their local community, Brown began providing summer enrichment programs to Providence-area high school students in the late 1960s. Over time, that effort expanded into an array of programs through which Brown students began providing one-on-one tutoring, college advising and more.

Today, Brown’s engagement with Providence schools includes a vast range of initiatives. Academic departments, centers and institutes across Brown share their expertise, research and technology platforms, among other resources. Brown’s Department of Education specializes in preparing teachers in secondary education as well as developing leaders in education policy. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform conducts research to bring best practices to schools. And Brown’s Swearer Center for Public Service connects Brown students and faculty with community partners.

Building on more than 50 years of engagement and partnerships, students, faculty and staff work with children in afterschool programs, lead education research projects, welcome Providence students to Brown and engage in teaching residencies in schools. The University also offers direct financial support for Providence Public School District (PPSD) priorities — annual payouts from a growing initial $10 million endowment go directly toward supporting the needs and goals of Providence schools.

1960s: Launching summer enrichment

Maureen Stabio teaching the pre-college Neuroscience in Health and Disease class where students had a chance to examine plastinated brains
Every year, hundreds of Brown community members engage with students in Providence schools through teaching, tutoring, after-school enrichment and more.

In summer 1968, Brown’s Department of Education found a way to prepare both Providence-area children and its own graduate students for the coming school year: a four-week enrichment program called Brown Summer High School. Student-centered and inquiry-based classes in English, history, math and science — offered at little to no cost to students in Providence and surrounding areas — enabled high schoolers to polish their skills and expand their knowledge, helping them prepare for college and careers. It also provided an introduction for Brown’s incoming Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) students, preparing them for the coming year of courses and applied learning.

More than 50 years later, Brown Summer High School continues to serve local students providing disciplinary-based curricula that are culturally-responsive and explore themes of social justice.

1980s: Building a commitment to community engagement

Swearer Center,
Brown embraces a community approach to enhancing and improving public school education.

Brown embraces a community approach to enhancing and improving public school education, and supports numerous programs and volunteer activities that assist local schools and their students.

Many of those connections are organized through the Swearer Center, which was founded in 1987 on the idea that community engagement should be a powerful and formative part of a Brown education. Named after former University President Howard Swearer, the center began as a handful of programs and fellowships, many of which were focused on engaging with K-12 students in Providence through one-on-one math and science tutoring and college advising. The programs not only have enriched Providence students’ classroom learning but also have given Brown students valuable tutoring and community engagement experience, helping them launch high-impact careers in public service.

From 1989 to 1997, former University President Vartan Gregorian followed in Swearer’s footsteps. Grounded in a belief that institutions of higher education have an obligation to respond to urgent social needs across the nation and world, Gregorian partnered with educators and local leaders at nearby Fox Point Elementary School to expand its resources and physical footprint, connect its students with tutoring and mentoring and host school-wide enrichment activities. Brown’s close relationship with Gregorian’s “adopted” school — now named after the late leader — lives on today.

1990s: Improving education through research

The Hopping House houses the Annenberg Institute of School Reform.
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform focuses on improving educational opportunities for children in Rhode Island and throughout the U.S.

Since its founding in 1993 by national education reform leader Ted Sizer, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform has focused on improving educational opportunities for children in Rhode Island and throughout the U.S. Over the decades, the institute has formed local partnerships that translate research to impact. In 2008, then-institute director Warren Simmons worked with then-Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri (Brown Class of 1965) to develop a statewide response to the challenges of raising student achievement in public schools in the state’s urban core. More recently, in early 2020, the Annenberg Institute, the Rhode Island Department of Education, the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner and DataSpark at the University of Rhode Island were awarded a $3.24 million federal Statewide Longitudinal Data System grant to improve equity in education across the state.

2000s: Reckoning with ties to racial slavery

Urban Education Fellows, 2019-2020
The University’s Urban Education Fellowship program provides loan forgiveness to up to 10 graduate students per year who agree to serve in Providence-area schools for at least three years after graduation.

In 2006, a groundbreaking report issued by the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice launched a reckoning with the University’s historical relationship to the transatlantic slave trade. The committee found that enhancing the quality of education in Providence public schools was one action the University could undertake as a form of restorative justice for its past ties to racial slavery.

In 2007, in response to that recommendation, the University established the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence to provide sustained financial support for initiatives that promote academic excellence and success in Providence public schools. For more than a decade, the fund has supported initiatives including library acquisitions, music instruction, reading interventions, the creation of a violence prevention curriculum and direct financial support to college-bound seniors.

The University also launched its Urban Education Fellowship program, providing loan forgiveness to up to 10 graduate students per year in the Master of Arts in Teaching and Urban Education Policy programs who agree to serve in Providence-area schools for at least three years after graduation.

2010s: Expanding enrichment, tutoring and research

Beam volunteer Noah Kennedy works with students during President Paxson's visit to the D'Abate Community School program at William D'Abate Elementary.
Each year, nearly 100 undergraduates organize and run after-school enrichment activities at D’Abate Elementary School in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood.

Brown’s tutoring and after-school enrichment programs continued to grow in the 2000s and 2010s. By 2012, more than 400 Brown students were tutoring, mentoring, training, organizing and otherwise serving in Providence-area schools each year.

Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring (BEAM) is one of the Swearer Center’s longest-running student initiatives; since 2000, nearly 100 undergraduates each year have organized and run after-school enrichment activities at D’Abate Elementary School in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood. Separately, the Bonner Community Fellowship program at the Swearer Center has, since 2016, enabled students to combine community engagement with academic goals, and many have chosen to embark on partnerships with local public schools.

In 2015, the Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice worked with Hope High School to launch the Civil Rights Movement Initiative, which each year engages a cohort of Hope High School students with various aspects of the civil rights movement through weekly workshops and a seven-day trip to the South, where students visit important civil rights sites and make connections between historical systems of domination and their own lived experiences. Student participants say the initiative has made a marked positive impact on their sense of identity, performance in school and investment in their communities.

In 2016, Brown Pre-College partnered with the Providence Public School District to increase PPSD students’ access to and participation in its summer enrichment programs. Together, they developed a scholarship for district students and began holding a series of information sessions in schools. As a result, PPSD student participation in Pre-College programs quadrupled, with more than 150 district students enrolling between 2016 and 2019.

Today: Continuing a decades-long effort

Alastair Tulloch demonstrates the brain to students at the Central Falls High School.
Brown has a longstanding commitment to providing impactful experiences for students in Providence schools, influencing their educational outcomes and enhancing their access to a high-quality college education and career exploration opportunities.

In 2019, Brown expanded its numerous commitments to Providence public schools following the release of an external review of the Providence Public School District that reported serious challenges affecting student learning outcomes. The Rhode Island Department of Education assumed control of the district, issuing a Turnaround Action Plan that set ambitious goals for change and student achievement in the city’s schools. Several Brown University faculty and staff served on the Community Impact Teams that offered recommendations for the plan.

In July 2020, Brown permanently endowed the $10 million Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence. Each year, payouts from the fund go directly toward supporting the needs of students in Providence schools. The University’s first payout from the fully funded endowment in 2021 supported key actions outlined in the Turnaround Action Plan. A Public Education Committee comprising parents, teachers and community members is charged with recommending use of payouts from the Fund in ways that can most benefit Providence students. Members also play a key role in guiding the direction of K-12 education initiatives at Brown and ensuring that Brown is optimizing its resources to support PPSD in the most effective ways possible.

For the 2020-21 academic year, Brown's Department of History-affiliated Choices Program, in partnership with the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, provided a free lesson plan for for all K-12 teachers in the U.S., titled "Racial Slavery in the Americas: Resistance, Freedom, and Legacies." The curriculum introduces students to the different ways in which racial slavery shaped the modern world, including the wide variety of experiences of enslaved peoples in North America, South America and the Caribbean.

In Fall 2020, all Brown Master of Arts in Teaching students began participating in yearlong residencies at four Providence-area schools — Hope High School, Central Falls High School/Calcutt Middle School, Blackstone Academy Charter School and Paul Cuffee Upper and Middle School — to develop culturally responsive teaching practices that address educational inequities, the needs of multilingual learners and local demand for science and mathematics teachers. The MAT program plans to partner with additional Providence public secondary schools in the coming years. The University also significantly expanded its financial aid to MAT students to support the state’s commitment to the diversification of the teaching profession.

Also in 2020, building on decades of work begun in the 1990s, the Annenberg Institute in partnership with the nonprofit Results for America launched the EdResearch for Recovery Project, an initiative that equips educators with research briefs that address challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as coping with learning loss, providing socioemotional support and enhancing outcomes for students with disabilities.

Recognizing that reducing socioeconomic and racial disparities in education access and outcomes is vitally important, faculty, staff and students at the Annenberg Institute, the Policy Lab and the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute are developing research-based solutions to improve educational outcomes, particularly in Providence and Rhode Island. The Annenberg Institute, for example, is working closely with the Rhode Island Department of Education and local schools to produce research that could help diversify the pipeline of Rhode Island teachers and leaders.

In 2021, the University began working with community partners to develop an intensive college-preparation program for cohorts of students who attend public schools in Providence. The program will support a state of Rhode Island goal to ensure that 70% of Rhode Islanders hold a college degree or certificate by 2025.

Over the coming years, Brown’s leaders plan to work with state, city and school leaders to continue strengthening K-12 public education in Providence, lending support for the effort to provide every student in the city with a top-quality education.