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Community Schools Movement Gains Momentum

Public schools will have more success if they pay attention not only to students' lives in the classroom, but also to the multiple elements of their development: social, emotional, physical, cognitive, civic, and moral.  If acting in silos, schools or families often cannot provide students all the support needed for academic and life success. Community schools bring together diverse activities, professionals, and programs for an entire community, creating a system where students' whole beings are nurtured.  


By coordinating partnerships between the school and other community resources, these schools aim to increase student academic success by providing health care services; homework clubs; social services; youth development; adult education; and early childhood education. According to a report by the Coalition of Community Schools, "it is this integrated focus on academics, family and neighborhood involvement, and health and social services that leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities."

Research on Community Schools: In a recent report published by the Coalition for Community Schools (CCS), Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools, strong evidence was found to support the notion that when a community unites and becomes active partners in supporting local youths and their families, it is easier for schools focus on the business of education and helping students reach their academic goals. According to the report community schools:

  • Provided significant and widespread gains in academic achievement and in essential areas of nonacademic development;
  • Increased family stability and greater family involvement with schools;
  • Increased teacher satisfaction and more positive school environments;
  • And led to better use of school buildings, increased security and pride in neighborhoods.

Other research also underscores the importance of interconnection among school, home, family, community, and student achievement. A recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Closing the Achievement Gap: School, Community, Family Connections, echoes that “community schools can improve student learning, increase parent participation, give teachers more time to focus on instruction, and contribute to making schools and the community safer.”

A New Focus on Community Schools: The Center for Community Schools (CCS) has developed a Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools, which has been endorsed by organizations ranging from the League of Cities to the American Public Health Association to the PTA. The Community Agenda aims to help "struggling youth, families and communities improve their lives by fostering school and community partnerships that support student outcomes."

According to the New York Times, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has supported an expansion of community schools as a "replacement for President Bush’s focus on standardized testing with a vision of public schools as community centers would help poor students succeed by offering not only solid classroom lessons but also medical and other services."  Similarly, US Senator Edward Kennedy last month introduced S. 3431, the Time for Innovation Matters in Education (TIME) Act, which contains language that encourages increased interaction and cooperation between schools and community organizations. “Schools need robust connections with families and other community institutions,” said Marty Blank, director of CCS. 

In an effort to educate national leaders and individuals on the benefits of school / community partnerships, the Coalition for Community Schools is sponsoring an event at the National Press Club on September 24th, 2008 entitled "A Community Agenda for America's Public Schools."

With recent polls and surveys listing education as one of America's top domestic policy issues, community schools are one innovation that can help reform schools and foster excellence, even as they build stronger communities.

 

Resources

Community Schools Movement Gains Momentum

Coalition for Community Schools
Community Schools, Partnership for Excellence
Community Agenda Endorsers
Closing the Achievement Gap - School, Community, Family CONNECTIONS
New Vision for Schools Proposes Broad Role