Neighborhood Learning Community

The Neighborhood Learning Community (NLC) is a network of people who believe that creating a community alive with learning, where everyone is an active teacher and learner, will improve learning for children and families and strengthen the neighborhood. The Center for Democracy and Citizenship initiated and served as a leader in this collaborative effort based in the West Side neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, and remains a partner.

The NLC is not a fixed organization. NLC leaders help broker resources, provide space and support for civic learning and leadership development, and connect people and organizations to generate ideas.

Those involved in the Neighborhood Learning Community:

• Build pathways between schools and non-formal learning opportunities in the neighborhood.

• Develop their capacity to engage in public work and lifelong learning.

• Organize to generate community responsibility for childrens’ learning.

Parents, young people and others are developing their confidence and capacity to be contributing members of their families, neighborhood, and society. This work nurtures individual and collective hope and sense of possibility.


The NLC got its start in 2001, when the Center for Democracy and Citizenship helped a diverse group of young people and adults come together around their shared values and interests. They believed that children’s learning improves if they grow up in a place with a culture of learning—where there are rich learning opportunities and contexts, and great expectations. Since 2001, West Side residents have worked together to reclaim their streets, parks and community buildings as sites of learning and connectedness. Examples of projects promoted by the NLC include All Around the Neighborhood camps, the circulator bus, and the Youth Apprenticeship Project.

The pioneering work of the NLC is being expanded throughout the City of Saint Paul as part of the mayor’s Second Shift Initiative. The Center for Democracy and Citizenship is a lead partner in Learning in Cities, a collaboration with the Second Shift Initiative, Saint Paul Public Schools, St. Paul Federation of Teachers union, and many community-based organizations that aims to ensure the academic and life success of all young people in Saint Paul. In addition, Center co-director Nan Skelton serves on the Second Shift Commission of advisors to the mayor.

The Center for Democracy and Citizenship also plays a leadership role in the East Side/West Side Learning Collaborative, which coordinates out-of-school time learning and youth civic engagement activities in the East and West side neighborhoods, and is a collaborator in the Saint Paul Youth Commission, which supports and creates a space for high school-age leaders from neighborhoods across the city to work with other civic leaders and advance the goals of the city’s Youth Policy Platform.


Creating a Culture of Learning in St. Paul: A Framework to Improve Children’s Learning by Nan Kari and Nan Skelton for the Kettering Foundation (PDF) — condensed version and full paper

A Framework for Neighborhood Public Work (PDF) — includes guiding principles, organizing tools, and reflection and action worksheets

A Community Alive with Learning: The Story of West Side Neighborhood Learning Community 2001-2005 (PDF)