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Universities Focusing on Community Schools Awarded Top Honors


By Rita Axelroth Hodges
Assistant Director, Netter Center for Community Partnerships

The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll and Presidential Award
are the highest federal honors a college or university can receive for its commitment to community service.

Five schools were honored with this year’s Presidential Awards at the American Council on Education’s 94th Annual Meeting last month in Los Angeles. Two of these schools—University of Pennsylvania and Seattle University - as well as an Honor Roll Finalist Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis - were specifically honored for their university-assisted community school partnerships.
The presidential recognition is further validation of the effectual and pioneering role colleges and universities can have in partnering to improve their neighborhoods.

The University-Assisted Community School program at the University of Pennsylvania's Netter Center for Community Partnerships helps to educate, engage, empower, and serve all members of the community in which their schools are located. University of Pennsylvania received a Presidential Award - its second Presidential Award - in the Summer Learning category for supporting a wide range of innovative summer initiatives at its community schools that serves students of all ages. The Center supports Freedom School programs for K-8 students. Penn's chapter of InnoWorks (operated by its School of Engineering students) provides a free summer camp for middle school students to stimulate interest in STEM among underrepresented minorities and females. The Center also operates high school youth development initiatives, including Leaders of Change at University City High Promise Academy and the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative internship program.  
These summer efforts are possible because of the Netter Center’s work with community members to create and sustain university-assisted community schools. Community school partnerships provide a powerful platform for universities to advance teaching, research, learning and service, as well as the civic development of their students. Netter Center-supported community schools engage students (K-16+) with curriculum based on real world, community problem-solving, as well as through extended day programs. The Netter Center functions as the integrating vehicle to effectively align Penn’s numerous schools and departments in order to develop and sustain community schools and bring about mutually-beneficial collaboration.

Seattle Universityreceived its Presidential Award in the "Promise Neighborhoods Model" category for its work in the nearby Bailey Gatzert neighborhood. Promise Neighborhoods, a place-based strategy very similar to community schools, work to support schools with community resources. The focus of the university’s Promise Neighborhood is Bailey Gatzert Elementary School and was featured in a recent article in The Seattle Times. The article highlights the work of the school’s full-time coordinator, Eddie Lincoln, to seek and maintain services for students and coordinate volunteers from the university. "Our biggest resource is the college students," said Lincoln. 
Educators in the piece demonstrate their excitement about the impact of the initiative on the school’s children.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), a key partner in the community schools work in Indianapolis, was a finalist for the President’s Award and a Community Service Honor Roll recipient. In September 2011, the Netter Center chose IUPUI to operate a regional training center, the Midwest Center for University-Assisted Community Schools, to support tcommunity schools work in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.
In addition to these award winners, other universities continue to do amazing work in supporting community school initiatives.
Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY has developed a strong teacher professional development partnership with Thomas A. Edison Elementary School, a community school in Port Chester, NY. The college offers individual tutoring and enrichment programs for students during and after school hours as part of its on-site teacher education courses. The college also facilitates the placement of student teachers who have shared their creative talents in the classrooms.
The University of Oklahoma-Tulsa is another Netter Center-supported regional training center for university-assisted community schools that works in the southwest. The funded partnership with Penn concluded in 2011, but Tulsa partners continue to work with the Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative (TACSI). Partners also formed the Higher Education Forum of Northeastern Oklahoma, an anchor institution consortium comprised of nine higher-education institutions and other community partners that links high schools to colleges through academic service-learning projects, college readiness, and career exploration. In June 2011, Tulsa Public Schools formally announced that university-assisted community schools would be its model for its high school reform plan and would work with the Higher Education Forum to implement this strategy. At each high school, an associate principal has been assigned to work with the Forum. The associate superintendent for high schools in Tulsa has committed to have the partnerships with higher ed institutions on his monthly meetings with all principals. The Forum has also been asked to partner with high schools in Union and Broken Arrow Schools Districts in Tulsa County. Other partners in this work include the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and Junior Achievement.
Florida International University (FIU) received a $1 million contribution from JPMorgan Chase to develop a university-assisted community school. The partnership, called "The Education Effect," is modeled closely after the Netter Center’s university-assisted community school initiative and debuted this year at Miami Northwestern High School in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. The Education Effect is utilizing service-learning to link FIU courses, faculty, and students with real-world problem solving at Miami Northwestern High. FIU’s dual enrollment program even allows Miami Northwestern students to choose from 11 courses they can take with FIU professors while earning college credits.
In summary, by giving students of all ages opportunities to contribute to solving real-world problems in their local community, the university-assisted community school model is designed to make a significant difference on campus and in the community, as well as help develop active, caring, and creative citizens of a democratic society. Moreover, by implementing these principles, partnerships are helping to advance the quality of life in their communities, as well as advancing these institutions core missions of research, teaching, and civic development on campus.
This argument has considerable historical grounding. The founding purpose of both colonial colleges and historically black colleges and universities was to educate young people for service to others. Fulfilling America's democratic promise was the founding purpose of land-grant universities. And the defined urban-serving mission for higher education dates from the late 19th century, notably the founding of the Johns Hopkins University, the first modern university, in 1876. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a re-emergence of engaged scholarship, with leading academics and university presidents making the case that universities, particularly urban universities, would better fulfill their core academic functions, including advancing knowledge and learning, if they focused on improving conditions in their cities and local communities.
As the examples above illustrate, community colleges, colleges, and universities around the country are demonstrating the crucial role higher education institutions can play as partners for change with their local schools and communities. University-assisted community school initiatives in Philadelphia, Seattle, Indianapolis, New York, Tulsa, Miami, and elsewhere are helping to pave the way forward.
We look forward to having partners from each of these communities join us at our National Forum May 9-12 in San Francisco.
To learn more about how to engage your university in community schools, visit

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