"What impressed me the most, as we went from classroom to classroom, was that the children were very orderly," Brunswick said. "There was also a sense of confidence in the children, an atmosphere where parents were involved and good attendance was an important goal."
All are qualities that Brunswick and other members of NCD want to bring to four Chester Upland schools through the application of the Comer School Development Program.
NCD and the Chester Upland district formed a partnership recently to raise $175,000. The money would fund a three-year agreement for Comer program training to be provided by the Yale University Child Development Center.
Melva H. Shipley, who is Chester Upland's Comer facilitator, said that beginning in September, the program would be in place at Columbus, Toby Farms, and Wetherill Elementary Schools and Smedley Middle School.
"Comer is child-centered," said Shipley, who added that the program is in place in more than 500 schools from Maine to Trinidad and has three guiding principles: no fault, consensus decision-making, and collaboration.
"This is a team effort of parents, schools and community," she said.
Collaboration is also at the center of NCD, an organization of eight Chester churches and the Ecumenical Caring Coalition and Food Bank, which was formed two years ago, according to the Rev. Herbert Coe of Grace Community United Methodist Church.
In May 1994, Mr. Coe said, NCD held a public meeting bringing together more than 350 congregation members from around the city.
Education in the Chester Upland district proved to be a central concern, he said.
Looking for solutions, the interdenominational organization proposed bringing the Comer program to Chester.
James Comer, a child psychiatrist, believes that academic learning is made possible through a child's attachment and bonding to adult caretakers.
He began his school development program at two New Haven, Conn., elementary schools in 1968 as a joint project with Yale University Child Study Center and the New Haven public schools.
The two schools, which suffered from low staff morale and lagging national test scores and attendance rates, improved significantly under the Comer program, Mr. Coe said.
The program involves parents at every level of school activities and decision-making, a school management team of teachers, administrators and staff, and a mental-health team that works with the school.
Under Comer, Mr. Coe said, the adults involved in the school focus on all students' physical, cognitive, emotional, social, moral and speech and language needs.
"Parents who feel they have a part in the decision-making of the school will be more supportive of the school, and that benefits the children," Mr. Coe said. "We are going to make the (school) rules together - even simple cafeteria rules - and let students serve on the committees. We are going to make a difference working together."
JoAnn B. Manning, Chester Upland superintendent, said that all district schools were invited to join the Comer program and that four accepted.
"The African proverb is, 'It takes a whole village to raise a child.' We are trying to make Chester Upland School District a village in which the focus is on children, first and last," Manning said.
"Over the next five years, I feel we will be able to say this partnership helped us to raise a family of healthy, intelligent, young adults."