In 2006, shortly after the floods that followed Katrina, one city plan advised turning the neighborhood of Broadmoor into a drainage park. Residents of the low-lying area had other ideas, and prevailed.
Today Broadmoor is not only thriving as a neighborhood, it wants to be an educational hub for the city. The neighborhood's vast array of programs expand the very idea of what education means.
The buzz of café sound greets you as soon as you step through the sleek, rectangular building at the intersection of Broad, Fountainbleu and Napoleon.
“We are currently at the Rosa F. Keller Library and community center, right at the apex there,” says Emily Wolff, the director of community programing for the Broadmoor neighborhood and for Wilson School.
Wolff stands in the wide corridor between the library and the the community center, where the Green Dot Café has just opened. “I coordinate and spearhead our vision for an Education Corridor,” says Wolff.
An Education Corridor is an idea Broadmoor’s residents invented. Back in 2010, Broadmoor voted to make their neighborhood into an Improvement District. So now, each year, all homeowners pay a $100 parcel fee, which pays for things like a community social worker.
About one in seven of Broadmoor’s residents live in poverty. And rather than, say, hire a surveillance truck to roam the neighborhood, Broadmoor wanted to attack inequality proactively. So they built a hub — a place where people can learn the things they want to learn.
This take-charge attitude is nothing new for Broadmoor, which was badly flooded when the levees failed. When the Bring New Orleans Back Commission recommended the neighborhood be turned into a drainage park, represented by a green dot on city planning maps, the residents said no way.
“That absolutely will not be the future of our neighborhood, and in fact we know best what it is that we need and want for our community, and we’re going to shape that together,” Wolff explains. “So that’s the irony of what now stands today as the Green Dot Café.”
Green Dot Café opened last month, smack in the middle between the library and the community center. Like nearly everything in Broadmoor’s Education Corridor, the café is part of a partnership.
“When our students graduate from Café Hope, and we don’t have a job to place them in immediately, sometimes we lose them,” says Melissa Martin, the executive chef and culinary director at Café Hope, a farm-to-table restaurant in Marrero that trains at-risk youth in financial literacy, nutrition, sustainability and even reading, through restaurant internships.
“With this space, we’re teaching them a whole new level of skills," Martin says. "So we’re teaching them to be baristas and we’re teaching them to do counter space. So then that opens up more opportunities, not just being a prep cook. You know it’s a means to an end. This doesn’t have to be your career.”
But it can be, say, a way to put yourself through college, says Martin.
The Broadmoor Education Corridor thinks about education broadly. Education as in coaching, training and opportunity, says Emily Wolff.
“We see (education) as spanning from birth through old age,” says Wolff.
The variety of classes in the Corridor is dizzying.
Wednesday afternoon at Wilson Charter School, long after school has been dismissed, girls in leotards, from schools all over the city, coupé and passé in Wilson’s cafeteria. The ballet class is sponsored by the New Orleans Ballet Association.
“First we stretched. We did sashays and everything,” says Anyah Dejan, a 5th grader at Morris Jeff Community School. She says she loves seeing friends in ballet who don’t go to her school or live in her neighborhood.
Upstairs in the gym, above the cafeteria, about a dozen boys warm up for basketball practice, coached by a very dedicated volunteer. 7th grader Elton Newman lives a few blocks away and says these basketball classes help him follow his dream.
“It means something very important to me,” says Newman. “Because, like, I’m not just going to sit at home and not just play the game all day and don’t do nothing. I can at least have something to do and make myself more better at the sport I want to do. Come here to learn more about basketball and be better.”
Saturday morning, back at the Rosa F. Keller community center, a roomful of kids learn how to make fruit kebobs in a cooking class led by the Tulane School of Culinary Medicine.
And down the hall, the citizenship class is meeting. Graziella Deayerdi, from Venezuela, quizzes Vy Tran from Vietnam for their upcoming citizenship interview.
“Why does the flag have 50 stars?” asks Deayerdi.
“Because they have 50 states,” replies Tran.
“Why does the flag have 13 stripes?”
“Because they have 13 original colonies.”
Here’s just a sampling of other classes offered in Broadmoor’s Education Corridor: Cooking on a Tight Budget, Yoga for Senior Citizens, Quilting, Zumba, Story Time for Babies, and a spoken word workshop.
Broadmoor wants people to stay engaged and active. James Myers, who takes his son to basketball, puts it like this:
“Active or hanging out in the street. Which one you want?”
The story above has been revised to reflect the following corrections:
The original text of this story misspelled Graziela P. de Ayerdi, and referred to the Tulane School for Culinary Medicine. It is, in fact, the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane.