In community schools, as in all schools, teachers teach and students learn—but with a focus on the whole child: an integrated focus.
Much like a smart phone, this integrated approach encompasses many new features:
- before and after school programs beyond the traditional extracurricular and athletic programs;
- learning opportunities for family and community members; and
- health and wellness support.
Partnerships with community organizations and businesses broaden the educational and experiential scope of learning making the school a hub of community activity.
These schools are often based on the Sustainable Community Schools (SCS) model, which considers:
- the needs of students and their families;
- services that are currently provided at the school;
- the availability and capabilities of local provider agencies; and
- the willingness of school personnel to change course and accept a new way of operating.
The Community School concept has been embraced by single schools; entire school districts, cities, and counties; and, in one case, an entire state (Kentucky).
“Community schools have the channels in place to accurately identify the needs and hopes of the school community, and then to triage those needs,”
The 6 Pillars of Community Schools
The Community School Model advanced by NEA includes six pillars of practice. Like most public education models, they are adaptable to the needs of an individual school’s students, staff, families and community.
1. Strong and Proven Curriculum
Educators provide a rich and varied academic program allowing students to acquire both foundational and advanced knowledge and skills in many content areas.
Students learn with challenging, culturally relevant materials that address their learning needs and expand their experience. They also learn how to analyze and understand the unique experiences and perspectives of others.
The curriculum embraces all content areas including the arts, second languages, and physical education. Rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate are offered. Learning and enrichment activities are provided before and after the regular school day, including sports, the arts, and homework assistance.
The needs of parents and families are addressed through English-as-a-Second- Language classes, GED preparation, and job training programs.
2. High-Quality Teaching
With the right policy supports, great teachers are the ideal agents of meaningful and sustainable change in our most challenged schools. Accomplished and effective teachers help students learn at high levels. They also spread their expertise throughout the school on behalf of all students
In community schools, teachers are fully licensed, knowledgeable about their content, and skillful in their practice.
Instructional time focuses on learning rather than testing. Individual student needs are identified and learning opportunities are designed to address them.
Higher order thinking skills are at the core of instruction so that all students acquire problem solving, critical thinking, and reasoning skills.
Educators work collaboratively to plan lessons, analyze student work, and adjust curriculum as required. Experienced educators work closely with novices as mentors, coaches, and “guides on the side,” sharing their knowledge and expertise.
Together, educators identify the methods and approaches that work and change those that are not meeting student needs.
3. Inclusive Leadership
Inclusive Leadership is a collaborative relationship among highly effective teachers and administrators characterized by shared decision-making and accountability.
In community schools, leadership teams with educators, the Community School Coordinator, and other school staff share the responsibility of school operations with the principal.
This Leadership Team ensures that the community school strategy remains central in the decision-making process.
The team plans development and implementation that includes thinking about sustainability that involves not just fund-raising but also organizing resources in new and more effective ways.
A Community School Committee is inclusive of families, community partners, school staff, youth, and other stakeholders from the school’s various constituencies and works in collaboration with the Leadership Team.
4. Positive Behavior Practices
Positive Behavior Practices help teachers improve classroom management and preventive school discipline to maximize student success.
In Community Schools, educators emphasize positive relationships and interactions, and model these through their own behavior.
Positive behavior practices are critical to providing all young people with the best learning environment.
Negative behaviors and truancy are acknowledged and addressed in ways that hold students accountable while showing them they are still valued members of the school community.
Restorative discipline practices such as peer mediation, community service and post-conflict resolution help students learn from their mistakes and foster positive, healthy school climates where respect and compassion are core principles.
Zero-tolerance practices leading to suspension and expulsion are avoided.
5. Family and Community Partnerships
In Community Schools, parents, caregivers and community members are partners in creating dynamic, flexible community schools.
Their engagement is not related to a specific project or program, but is on-going and extends beyond volunteerism to roles in decision-making, governance and advocacy.
The voices of parents, caregivers and community members are partners are critical to articulating and achieving the school’s overall mission and goals.
Their voices are critical to articulating and achieving the school’s overall mission and goals.
When families and educators work together, students are more engaged learners who earn higher grades and enroll in more challenging classes; student attendance and grade and school completion rates improve.
6. Community Support Services
In community schools, educators recognize that students often come to school with challenges that impact their ability to learn, explore, and develop in the classroom.
Wraparound services are integrated into the fabric of the school.
Because learning does not happen in isolation, community schools provide meals, health care, mental-health counseling, and other services before, during, and after school. These wraparound services are integrated into the fabric of the school that follows the Whole Child tenets.
Connections to the community are critically important so support services and referrals are available for families and other community members.
According to the Annenberg Institute, wraparound services that support students and their families are a critical component for improving high-poverty schools.
These services address issues resulting in hunger, illness and exhaustion by bringing nutrition programs, health services and other supports into the school.
Programs assisting families in English language acquisition and job training are also provided.
Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child
The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model, developed and released by the US Centers for Disease Control and ASCD, is the next generation of coordinated school health. This model can be used to ensure that students and the school environment are healthy, safe, and supported.
Health and student services are key components of the Community Schools model. Counseling, psychological, social services, and health services are often located within the school or in nearby community service centers.
A school’s food services play a distinct role in addressing student hunger and nutrition needs, which often pose challenges for low-income students and their families.
Many students needing these services are identified by the school’s administrators and teachers, but often by education support professionals, including bus drivers, secretaries, cafeteria workers, and custodians.
Education Support Professionals (ESPs) are frequently the most immediate and direct conduit into the school community, for the majority not only work, but also live nearby.
Additionally, ESPs frequently serve more than one school site and may act as a liaison between schools, as well as between school staff and community agencies.
School-Based Health Centers
In 2014, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) established a School-based Health Center (SBHC) Task Force that reviewed research studies and report on outcomes.
Low-income, racial and ethnic minority students commonly experience health issues, are less likely to have a usual health care provider, and miss more days of school because of illness than do their more economically and socially advantaged peers.
They are also more likely to come to school hungry. In addition, they often have problems with vision, oral health, and hearing. SBHCs may address some of these obstacles, which can be critical to students’ education and long-term health.
The DDHS study reported on major findings including: SBHCs led to improved educational outcomes including school performance, grade promotion, and high school completion.
SBHCs also led to improved health outcomes including the delivery of vaccinations and other recommended preventive services, and decreases in asthma morbidity, and emergency department and hospital admission rates.
SBHCs provide primary health services to students in grades K-12 and may be offered within the school or in school-linked centers. SBHCs are often established in schools that serve predominantly low-income communities.
SBHCs may have the following characteristics:
- A single clinician providing primary care services or a multi-disciplinary team providing comprehensive services
- Mental health care, social services, dentistry, and health education
- Ability to extend services to school staff, student family members, and others within the surrounding community.
Adult Education Programs
Adult learners include a wide range of individuals with different motivations for continuing or restarting their schooling.
Community schools may be a hub for adult learning:
- Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED) programs for students who have dropped out of school before completion;
- English as a Second-Language classes;
- citizenship classes for immigrant families;
- literacy and numeracy programs for those with minimal skills; course completion for community college or job training program eligibility;
- opportunities to learn or expand knowledge and use of various technological tools; and
- personal enrichment.
The school becomes a community center by engaging the community’s adults, including students’ family members, in education programs that address their learning needs.