Too many students come to school with needs that impede their ability to thrive academically. If we really want to close the achievement gap, we must supplement their regular coursework by addressing factors that are beyond the control of teachers and schools yet have a direct effect on student outcomes. Important factors such as healthcare, social services and parental involvement are too often divorced from school life, although they are critical to student success. These supports are even more crucial at a time like the present, when a struggling economy puts even greater pressures on families.
We propose transforming some of the schools serving our neediest students into community schools that bring together, under one roof, the services and activities that our children and their families need.
With the support of mayors and/or other government leaders, local agencies and community groups, community schools could provide students the services beyond instruction that they need to reach their potential. A variety of federal, state and local funding streams could be drawn upon for these services.
School buildings would be open all day and evening for tutoring, homework assistance and recreational activities. Medical, dental, recreational, counseling and child care services would be available to meet the community's needs.
Community schools would create an inviting environment for parents and other adults by offering parents customized supports such as English language instruction, employment counseling, citizenship programs and GED programs. Having these programs and social services in schools could encourage parents to get more involved in their children's education, and help to stabilize families so they can better support their children's learning.
Community schools are not a new concept. They have their roots in the earliest, richest traditions of public education. The time has come to broaden the debate about accountability to include shared responsibility for the success of our children. Community schools offer a means to eliminate the achievement gap by educating the whole child and providing our neediest students with the supports they need to succeed.
Five Essential Principles of Community Schools
- Community schools have a strong academic curriculum. The school and community work together to ensure that students have a strong and rigorous curriculum that will further student success. The goal of academic success should advance all strategic partnership planning.
- Community schools are a set of coordinated and purposeful partnerships with the school district that integrate services for students, their families and the community with the common goal of ensuring student success and building strong communities. Many schools offer afterschool tutoring or a series of unconnected programs. Their programs are too often unrelated, disconnected from any academic mission and necessary rigorous curriculum, and lack the support built through partnerships that engender sustainability. A full-service community school provides integrated programs and experiences that enrich learning as well as meet the needs of students and the community.
- Community school partners may include a variety of providers and funders. They may be community-based, regional or national organizations and may have nonprofit, for-profit or faith-based status, but should provide equal access to all children.
- Community schools provide more than one type of service to students and the community. These may include: academic services like tutoring, community-based learning and other enrichment activities; medical services like primary, vision, dental and nutritional services; mental health services like counseling and psychiatrists; and a variety of social services.
- Community schools are based on a comprehensive and strategic plan agreed to in writing (e.g., contracts, memoranda of agreement and memoranda of understanding) between the partner organization(s), including the providers and funders, and the school. Oversight of the school site(s) requires written agreements to avoid problems of governance and operation of community schools. Written agreements also provide planning and a process for creating community school models that can be taken to scale with buy-in by all stakeholders.
Surrounded by Support, American Educator, Summer 2009
Open door policy, American Teacher, Sept. 2008
Randi Weingarten, AFT Convention Speech, July 2008
Community Coalition Debuts Action Plan, Sept. 2008
Open door policy, PSRP Reporter, May/June 2008
Dryfoos, J.D. and S. Maguire. (2002). Inside Full-Service Community Schools. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.