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Part One: The Advantages of Community Schools

 

PART ONE: THE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS STRATEGY


THE ADVANTAGES OF COMMUNITY SCHOOLS

Many schools have created partnerships with various community institutions. But it is the partnerships forged around the principles of community schools and committed to creating the conditions for learning that make the difference. As a result, partnership-based community schools offer three distinct advantages over traditional public schools by:

  • Providing learning opportunities that develop both academic and non-academic competencies
  • Building social capital—the value attached to the social networks and relationships that support learning and create opportunities for young people while strengthening their communities
  • Garnering additional resources that directly support schools’ teaching and learning goals while reducing demands on school staff

While much-touted school reform efforts largely focus on in-school improvement, a community schools strategy builds on research that has demonstrated the important connection between in-school and out-of-school factors in student achievement. In-school factors are concerned with the quality of instruction and curriculum. It is commonly accepted that an effective teacher is the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement, but students also need a challenging curriculum that engages them as active learners in real-world problem-solving. Often, in the schools serving our neediest children, the curriculum is narrow and neither rigorous nor engaging. Classes are often unmanageably large, and instructional materials and supportive technologies are frequently limited. Worse still, neither the school climate nor adult behavior adequately communicates the expectation that every student will succeed.

Out-of-school factors that affect a student’s ability to learn include residence in a high-poverty neighborhood, an unmarried teen mother, irregular attendance, and the ripple effects of family substance abuse and mental health issues, unemployment or frequent mobility, social isolation, poor health care and diet, and lack of educational support. Each of these factors has a pronounced impact on a child’s cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development.

Issues as basic as whether a child attends school regularly or has an adult at home to encourage him to do his homework or to applaud her best efforts all affect school performance. Research shows, for example, that chronic absence is prevalent for young children. "Every year, one in 10 kindergarten and 1st grade students misses a month of school with excused and unexcused absences. By middle and high school, the rates of chronic absence are far higher." A study of students in kindergarten through grade 5 in New York City showed one in five students chronically absent. These absences affect academic achievement, leave children unable to read well by the end of grade 3, and can set a pattern of poor attendance and academic failure for older students, fueling the dropout rate.

Community schools identify resources that help address out-of-school factors and connect home, school, and community in ways that make student success possible. Families become their children’s most important influence and are encouraged to become school decision makers. By paying attention to both academic and non-academic learning, community schools reach the whole child and encourage the growth and development of a range of reinforcing competencies—social, emotional, physical, and academic. In community schools, engagement precedes achievement—and intensifies it—in classrooms and community-based learning opportunities. Relationships with caring adults help young people build networks of support, develop important social skills, and expand their horizons. In community schools, students come to school because they want to learn; what is more, they are ready to learn.



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Guide Home - IntroductionPart I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Appendix - Tools

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