Transforming Schools to Serve Our Children Well

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This blog is part of the series, Community Schools: A Path to Transformation, which explores innovative practices, research, and the experiences of practitioners to elevate how community schools can transform education to better serve students, educators, and families.

“Responding to the uniquely challenging moment we’re in, many districts and states are making big bets on community schools—both to address the tattered social safety net Oakes refers to, as well as to provide a catalyst for the deeper cultural and practice changes needed to better serve students and adults alike.

These initiatives are underway in large urban districts like Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Oakland, as well as in smaller rural communities in California, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont. A number of states have also established funding and supports for community schools. Maryland established the Concentration of Poverty grant program to provide annual community school personnel grants to eligible schools, along with additional per-pupil grant funding for each eligible student. New York created a community schools set-aside in its school funding formula for high-need districts and funded three regional technical assistance centers for community schools. California, for its part, has leveraged multiyear budget surpluses in 2021 and 2022 to make a historic $4.1 billion investment in planning, implementation, and coordination grants—as well as technical assistance—for the state-funded California Community Schools Partnership Program. This investment is intended to provide sufficient resources for every high-poverty school in California to become a community school within the next 5 to 7 years.

Community schools are a place-based strategy deeply rooted in their local context—the needs, assets, hopes, and dreams of students, families, educators, and community partners. They leverage a complex web of partnerships and relationships, like those at Mendez High School in East Los Angeles, to support and engage students and families. By integrating access to services—from medical care to housing and other supports—and making them available to students and families on school campuses, community schools provide a much-needed alternative to the fragmented and bureaucratic social services gauntlet that families in need are typically required to navigate. As we have seen time and again during the COVID-19 pandemic, these services and supports—provided in the context of trusting and caring relationships—can be life changing and can mean the difference between academic success and struggling students and families.

At Mendez, because of the infrastructure created through its community schools approach, the school and its partners were able to provide vital services to students and families as soon as schools shut down in 2020. A mobile clinic that already served the school began COVID-19 testing for the community; mental health providers already in place conducted regular mental health check-ins with students via devices or at a safe physical distance. Other partners created care packages with food, toilet paper, electronic benefit transfer cards, and other essentials, and teachers organized to provide Wi-Fi hot spots to families before the district had the capacity to do so.”

Read the full blog here.

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