Which school do you want to support?
Perhaps out of habit, most people usually think of schools as serving a single purpose: teachers teach and students learn. But no school is an island.
Each school, and the families it serves, exists within the context of a larger community. Children’s lives, and their ability to succeed in school are affected by every facet of their community, not just what happens in the classroom.
Success at school is much more difficult if a family’s basic needs (such as housing, health, nutrition, safety, and transportation) are not met. The quality and availability of community services support the quality of schools. In return, schools can also serve as important focal points for community services.
The "community schools" movement advocates for a broader definition of the role of a school, particularly in areas of high poverty. This broader vision can vary depending on the needs of the community. As the Coalition for Community Schools puts it, community schools support “an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement that leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.”
For schools to do more than educate, they must have a vision that extends beyond the school day. This video from Edutopia about New York's Children's Aid Society helps to show some of the possibilities.
One of the most acclaimed examples of a school with these kinds of integrated services is the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. The Obama administration created the “Promise Neighborhoods” initiative to assist cities in replicating the Harlem model’s success. As of 2017, a cumulative total of $286 million had been awarded to over 700 schools and 1,000 community partners, but the future of the program was unclear.
Most "community school" efforts require coordinated effort among a variety of participating organizations, each of which brings assets to the partnership. Schools on their own do not have unused budget to provide health services, for example, but they may have underused space that a health-focused organization lacks. Terrence Green of the University of Texas at Austin summarized research related to community schools partnerships in 2014.
The next lesson addresses one of the most important factors driving a school's success or failure: leadership.
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