Frequently Asked Questions About Community Schools
What is a Community School?
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends.
Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. Partners work to achieve these results:
- Children are ready to learn when they enter school and every day thereafter. All students learn and achieve to high standards.
- Young people are well prepared for adult roles in the workplace, as parents and as citizens.
- Families and neighborhoods are safe, supportive and engaged.
- Parents and community members are involved with the school and their own life-long learning.
Why do we need community schools?
We need community schools because research and experience tell us that young people need a wide range of opportunities and supports to succeed. A quality academic program is necessary, but not sufficient. The recent Phi Delta Kappan Poll about public attitudes toward education shows that 70% of Americans blame societal factors for challenges such as the achievement gap and dropouts that face schools. Community schools respond to these societal factors, family circumstances, poverty and health problems. We also need community schools because all our children regardless of their economic, racial or family circumstances deserve access to the array of opportunities that more well off families provide to their children. And we need them because schools must re-engage the broader public and community schools are the place where this can happen.
Community schools address many of the realities that challenge today’s schools and educators:
- Cultural Disconnects
- Disengaged Students
- Too Much Unstructured Time
- Unaddressed Health Needs
- School Violence and Unsafe School Environments
- Overburdened and Under Resourced Schools
Research published by the Educational Testing also identifies eight factors beyond school that contribute to the student achievement gap:
- weight at birth
- lead poisoning
- hunger and nutrition
- reading to young children
- TV watching
- parent availability and support
- student mobility
- parent participation
Why are Community Schools better than traditional public schools?
Community Schools increase opportunities for children to succeed in school by providing resources that make a difference:
- Increased parental involvement in children’s education.
- Extra learning opportunities through educational enrichment.
- Consistent access to adult guidance and support.
- Convenient access to health, dental and mental health services.
- In addition, Community Schools address contemporary economic and social realities, including families’ need for safe and affordable childcare.
What are the benefits or advantages of a community school?
Unlike traditional public schools, community schools link school and community resources as an integral part of their design and operation. Consequently, community schools have three major advantages that schools acting alone do not. Community Schools:
- Garner additional resources to reduce the demand on school staff for addressing all the challenges that students bring to school.
- Provide learning opportunities that develop academic and non-academic competencies.
- Build social capital -- the networks and relationships that support learning and create opportunities for young people while strengthening their communities.
What are the areas in which community schools offer programs and services?
In a community school, youth, families and community residents work as equal partners with schools and other community institutions to develop programs and services in five areas:
- Quality education - High-caliber curriculum and instruction enable all children to meet challenging academic standards. The school uses all of the community's assets as resources for learning and involves students in contributing to the solution of community problems.
- Youth development - Young people develop their assets and talents, form positive relationships with peers and adults, and serve as resources to their communities.
- Family support - Family resource centers, early childhood development programs, coordinated health, mental health and social services, counseling, and other supports enhance family life by building upon individuals' strengths and skills.
- Family and community engagement - Family members and other residents actively participate in designing, supporting, monitoring and advocating quality programs and activities in the school and community.
- Community development - All participants focus on strengthening the local leadership, social networks, economic viability and physical infrastructure of the surrounding community.
Have you got any proof that it really works?
Plenty. For example, since the opening of its first Community School in 1992, The Children’s Aid Society has used research by Fordham University, the Education Development Center, ActKnowledge and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to evaluate its programs. Their intent has been to document the impact on youth, families and schools. In the time since the opening of the first Community School, the following outcomes have been documented:
- Improved student achievement
- Increased parental involvement
- Higher student and teacher attendance
- Improved school climate
- Decreased special education referrals
- Improved mental and physical health
Where else will I find Community Schools?
You will find Community Schools all over the country. Some of the “best” include:
- Berkeley, CA: Berkeley 2020
- Chicago Community Schools, IL
- Evansville, IN School Community Council
- Lehigh Valley, PA Lincoln, NE
- Nashville, TN: Alignment Nashville
- Portland, OR: SUN Schools
- Sayre High School, Philadelphia, PA
- Tukwila, WA
- Tulsa, OK
- There are many strong programs in: Miami, FL, Memphis, TN, Albuquerque, NM and numerous other cities across the country.
How about Minnesota? Where are the Community Schools?
There are very few “real” Community Schools in Minnesota. There are several schools – mostly elementary – that have elements of a “Full-Service Community School” and even include the term “Community Schools” in their names. St. Paul’s, Achievement+ Schools (4 or 5 elementary schools) are examples of quality programs nearby. However, there are no secondary programs and, by extension, no district-wide programs in Minnesota – until now.
What is the curriculum like in a community school?
The curriculum really doesn’t change much, especially in light of our International Baccalaureate Programs. The idea of Community Schools is to reduce barriers to learning so, when they enter the classrooms, they can learn the curriculum we have developed.
Who endorses Community Schools?
You will find an abbreviated list below of some of the organizations that endorse Community Schools:
American Federation of Teachers
National Education Association
American School Counselor Association
National Association of Elementary School Principals
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Association of School Administrators
School Social Work Assoc. of America
YMCA of the USA
Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
Annenberg Institute for School Reform
Asset-Based Community Development Institute
Center for Community Change
Concordia, LLC Architecture and Planning
Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options
United Way of America
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
National Association of State Directors of Special Education
National Schools Boards Association
National Staff Development Council
Urban Education Partnership
Child Welfare League of America
National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education
The Alliance for Children and Families
American Public Health Association
American School Health Association
National Association of School Nurses
National Association of School Psychologists
School Mental Health Project/ Center for Mental Health in Schools, UCLA
National League of Cities
National Community School Networks
Children's Aid Society
Communities In Schools
National Community Education Association
Youth Development Institute–Beacon Schools
Institute for Educational Leadership
National Center on Time and Learning
National Child Labor Committee
After School Alliance
America's Promise Alliance
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Camp Fire USA
In Reach, Inc.
National AfterSchool Association
National Collaboration for Youth
National Youth Leadership Council
The Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development
Who is paying for this? What does it cost?
The cost will vary depending on the program. In Brooklyn Center, we see the start-up costs requiring the largest investment. Even there, however, the costs will not be too expensive. Most of those costs are tied to the Project Manager position, printing, mailing, etc. On an ongoing basis those costs continue but, once all partners are in place many of the positions will be absorbed by BC Schools and the partners. There are a great deal of grants available for Community Schools and related programs. We plan to seek all of them.
The concept of Shared Services is a hot topic in Minnesota these days. Most of the discussion has been around sharing purchasing services. Community School partnerships are the ultimate in shared services. More than just purchasing, Community Schools and partners share people and space resources and much more. In the process, we reduce duplication of services and share in the costs of programs with the savings. Discussions with several legislators have shown keen interest in this idea.
Isn’t this just another government doing what the family should be doing?
It is not just another government program. If you analyze what Brooklyn Center Schools have done and continue to do with multiple partnerships, you will find the general approach is not new. What is new is the effort to organize the partner, connect them and assist students and the schools in a more coordinated manner.
Just as we are not paying for most of the partner services now, we will not pay in the future.
The bottom line is a school district with 70% Poverty, 26% Mobility, 26% ELL and 73% Diversity is greeting children with multiple “barriers to learning” every day when they enter our schools. We can either facilitate processes that will address those barriers or we can continue to “fight the battle alone.”
The fact is, no one else is doing it for all of the children. As Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the “Harlem Children’s Zone,” says, “We can’t afford to wait for the government to correct bad policy and strategies anymore. They don’t have the answer. If you care about your children, you’re going to have to save them yourself. There is no one coming to rescue Minnesota’s children. We’re going to have to do it ourselves.”
By the way, if we do it right, it should save the government dollars that would have been spent on Social Services, Law Enforcement, Courts, Prisons, Welfare and much more.
Will we change our name to Brooklyn Center Community Schools?
This is a decision the School Board must make. However, it appears most of the successful programs have included “Community Schools” as a part of their building and/or district names.
Is this just another initiative we are taking on?
While the effort will be much larger than anything we’ve done, there isn’t much there we haven’t been doing at some level already. To quote a segment from an article in the AFT Journal, “American Educator,” “Community schools give teachers more time to teach and more time to build trusting relationships with students and their parents. Through the community school strategy, teachers have partners in the building who can take care of students’ health needs; provide food for that empty stomach; address the need for eyeglasses, boots, warm coats. Partners can take care of the problems my students face, so that I can focus on building the relationship with the child and am able to teach my students to read.”
Brooklyn Center Schools is the home of some of the finest, hardest working, and most caring teachers anywhere. We believe using a Community Schools approach will make teaching easier. The AFT Journal article might say it best. The title was “Freeing Teachers to Teach.”