Dave Greenberg, executive director for Center for Community Schools, NEA-NM, said community schools “rose to the challenge” of providing child care, clothing distributions and nutrition and physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic even as public schools shifted to remote and hybrid learning for close to a year.
The pandemic laid bare racial and economic inequities but the concept of community schools, where the local community has more control over the children’s education “is rooted in a decolonizing approach to education,” he said.
“[It] allows communities to have autonomy over what their education looks like and feels like. That is a racial justice movement. That helps to redress some of the long history of colonization,” Greenberg said.
Community schools are not a new concept nor are they specific to New Mexico, Greenberg said. He said the community school model began with Chicago-based progressive social reformer Jane Addams in the early 1900s.
Greenberg said there are 80 community schools in New Mexico, which makes up about 10 percent of the overall public school system in the state. He said the state currently allocates $5 million to fund community schools. He said there are community schools in New Mexico’s cities, such as Las Cruces where he is based, as well as in smaller communities such as Truth or Consequences.
“Theorists had this conception that schools should be social centers, that they are not simply there to deliver a very traditional core curriculum during the day but that they are ongoing centers that serve as a hub of community and bring people of all ages together for social intercourse,” Greenberg said.
Par-Sanchez said community schools give students “a voice.”
“In middle and high school, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t ask the kids about their own learning and adults guide them but kids [in community schools] have a voice and a say in that. It increases engagement. If we included our communities in our schools, there’d be more of a dialogue between the community that surrounds the school,” she said.
Greenberg said oftentimes, broad-based curriculum is not relevant to the students.
“Community schools provide an opportunity for the whole system to be more responsive to diverse communities’ needs and cultures,” Greenberg said. “Community schools often have school councils where the family is at the table helping to make decisions and have representation they haven’t had in the past, especially in marginalized communities.”
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