The concept of community schools – where local education buildings serve as hubs for all resources and opportunities that students and parents need – is not new to Maryland.
But it is relatively new to Baltimore County. And thanks to grant money provided by the $3.8 billion Blueprint for Maryland’s Future legislation, the number of community schools in Baltimore County is increasing rapidly.
Shannon Ament works at one of the first community schools created in the county. Sandalwood Elementary has been a designated community school for five years because of its high concentration of students in poverty.
But the school didn’t really transform into a one-stop-shop for parent and student needs until Ament took charge.
Ament serves as the school’s community school facilitator, the key point person in charge of coordinating and delivering the services students and their families need. She’s been in the role since 2021.
“It’s a 70 hour-per-week job. And I was doing a lot of it as a teacher,” Ament said.
She worked as a second grade teacher at the school for 20 years before taking on her new role. In some ways, that experience has made her job a little easier, she said.
“Because I already have relationships built. And I just know the pulse of the community,” Ament said.
Each community school facilitator has a distinct job. That’s because during the first year on the job, facilitators interview and survey community members to determine the top three needs in their local area.
Melissa Forster, who leads community school efforts in Baltimore County, said those needs can vary greatly from school to school.
“We’ve always told our facilitators, if you’ve seen one community school, you’ve seen one community school, because every community’s needs are different,” Forster said.
That’s also why facilitators wear many other hats in their roles.
Malkia Pipkin, starting her second year as facilitator at Chadwick Elementary School, also runs all of her school’s communications. Harry Wujek, facilitator at Holabird Middle School, spent last year filling in for a vacant secretary position in the main office.
“There’s a lot of moving parts with community schools,” Forster said. “One day you may be doing a dental clinic. And then the next day, you may be facilitating an out-of-school-time program or meeting with a political figure.”
Many Baltimore County residents don’t really know what community schools – or their facilitators – do, Forster said.
“It’s so new, and it’s just a different way of schooling than we’ve previously done,” she said.
Two years ago, there were only eight community schools in Baltimore County. Now, there are 56 – and more are coming. That’s because the model is working, Ament said.
“At the end of the day, the higher ups are concerned with the academic needle moving. And I think they see community schools as a way to do that,” she said. “Because you have to address the needs of the whole child in order to do that.”
Read the whole story here.