LPI: “Supporting Rural Education Gains Through Community Schools”

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Read the full blog from the Learning Policy Institute here.

“Lost Hills Union Elementary School District (Lost Hills) is surrounded by almond fields and rolling green hills in rural Kern County, CA. The district currently serves approximately 287 students across grades TK–8, more than half of whom are English learners and more than 80% of whom are from low-income families. In 2018, Lost Hills started implementing a community schools strategy, and the impact has been clearly noticeable. As Principal Verónica Sánchez-Gregory of Lost Hills Elementary explains, “After nearly 5 years of community school implementation, we achieved top academic growth in our county for English language arts [ELA] and math. Securing double-digit proficiency growth is huge, but doing it during a pandemic year is unprecedented.”

Community schools organize in- and out-of-school resources and supports such as mental health services, meals, health care, tutoring, internships, and other learning and career opportunities that fit specific needs of their communities. Through this strategy, students, families, educators, and community partners come together to support student success. While the specific programs and services vary according to local context, key site-level practices include: (1) expanded, enriched learning opportunities; (2) rigorous, community-connected classroom instruction; (3) a culture of belonging, safety, and care; (4) integrated systems of support; (5) powerful student and family engagement; and (6) collaborative leadership and shared power and voice.

Community schools are growing across the nation, and California has become a leader in implementation in recent years, supported by an unprecedented $4.1 billion investment through the California Community Schools Partnership Program. The program provides grants that enable school and district partnerships with community agencies and local government to support students’ academic, physical, and mental development.

Lost Hills is the lead partner in the West Kern Consortium for Full-Service Community Schools (the Consortium). The Consortium combines and leverages resources across several neighboring small, rural districts. These include Maple, Semitropic, and Elk Hills Elementary School Districts and, more recently, Wasco and Taft Union High School Districts. Each school in the Consortium has a community school coordinator, a social worker, and an AmeriCorps mentor who work together to support students and families. The Consortium also sponsors after-school programming, shared nursing services, and preschool in Lost Hills. An innovative rural Children’s Cabinet brings together key county-level decision-makers from education, health, human services, and housing alongside school leaders, community partners, and families to address common challenges like chronic absenteeism and access to children’s mental health services. For the latter, working with local agencies and school districts, the Consortium has been able to pilot the placement of MediCal-sponsored mental health services directly on school campuses 1 day per week.”

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