Summit challenges community to seek innovative solutions to social problems

Summit challenges community to seek innovative solutions to social problems
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POSTED: Friday, October 19, 2012 - 10:50pm

UPDATED: Sunday, October 21, 2012 - 12:55pm

Baton Rouge has lots of areas in which it can improve, and many different suggestions about how to make things better. The third annual Better Baton Rouge Summit aimed to bring people together in the name of progress.

Improving education and access to healthy food were the two main topics of Friday's event, with speakers presenting their approaches before breaking into smaller groups.

The idea of a mobile market generated widespread interest among the attendees. Bringing fresh produce grown by local farmers to neighborhoods with little access to groceries would improve residents' health.

Among the possibilities discussed for the mobile market would be having a doctor at the same site providing blood pressure checks or other basic health services.

"That would be great," said Jeffrey Smith. "At least they could be more health conscious. And find out more about what they need to eat healthier, and what would be good for them."

An idea that was developed at a previous year's summit that is being implemented now is a program for smart phones called "Bon' App." It was created by a team from Harvard University, which has partnered with Better Baton Rouge to help solve the city's problems. The app tells users the nutritional value of any food, including items from fast food restaurants.

Better Baton Rouge plans to put the app in the hands of high school students, providing phones for those who do not have them yet. The Harvard group will analyze data provided by the teens to give a better understanding of local eating habits.

The most heated topic at the summit was education. Ideas about bookmobiles were discussed as a way to bring the joy of learning to children who attend school infrequently.

As for the schools themselves, "most of the conversation is about governance," said the summit's host, Raymond Jetson, "whether it's a recovery school district or an EBR school, or whether it's a charter or whether it's a traditional school. And part of the frustration was, that ought not matter."

A discussion formed about whether the problem was more closely related to a lack of resources or determination. Most of the people in the conversation thought accountability was the biggest issue in today's classroom, rather than funding.

"Just set a standard, hold it, hold the kids to it, and let's just get it done," said Sherry Irving.

Those in attendance realized the one-day summit would not be enough to fix the city's ills. But they thought collaboration like this was a good place to start.

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