What Are Community Schools?
A community school is the heart of a community, uniting diverse and engaged stakeholders to make the school community stronger and support the Whole Child — meaning children are not just supported in academics, but are learning in environments that make them feel safe, valued, engaged, challenged, and healthy. Community schools provide not only tremendous opportunities for learning and success for students, but also offer hope, opportunity, and transformation to entire communities. Community schools mobilize students, families, educators, and community members to develop a grassroots vision for their schools and communities, and they work together to achieve their vision. Today, there are more than 5,000 community schools nationwide, and this number continues to grow.
CTA Supports Community Schools Because We Believe Students Are the Center of Everything We Do
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources with an integrated focus on academics, health, social services, leadership, and community engagement. Its integrated focus leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. Community schools are based on an integrated focus on the whole child, which takes more time and resources.
CTA and NEA advocate for more money from the state and federal government to fund the Community Schools Model. Biden’s budget proposal making its way through Congress requests $443 million for community schools, a 14-fold increase over the current level of $30 million. Recently in the 2021 California state budget, $3 billion was allocated for the expansion of community schools.
The NEA Community Advocacy & Partnership Engagement (CAPE) Department provides state and local partnership funding grants that are intended to assist state/local affiliates to identify, engage, and mobilize community organizations and community leaders around increasing student achievement (specifically for students of color), engaging members who have participated in leadership trainings, and creating union roles to build capacity to engage community partners.
The results are deeper engagement and greater overall academic success. Community schools lead to lower rates of absenteeism; better work habits, grades, test scores, and behaviors; higher enrollment in college preparatory classes; and higher graduation rates.
Examples of Community Schools
A dual language and magnet program, 93rd Street STEAM Academy had a very aggressive and holistic response when faced with the pandemic. School staff, families, and community volunteers worked tirelessly to address students’ and families’ needs amid evolving circumstances while ensuring that students received consistent, high-quality academic instruction. During the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, 93rd prioritized nutritional assistance for its families, more than half of whom had reported not having access to anything to eat at the onset of the lockdowns.
Unlike most continuation school sites in the state, Foothill’s campus was intended to be a small, flexible, and supportive continuation site from the very beginning. It is an alternative setting for students experiencing difficulty in the traditional school.
Prescott School is a historic school in West Oakland; Oakland’s first African American teacher, Ida Louise Jackson, taught at Prescott in 1925 (13 years before any other school hired a Black teacher). With an investment of $195,000, CAPE grants have supported parent organizing at Prescott and have helped launch a community garden at the school. The Oakland Education Association and Parents United have partnered to engage parents, teachers, and community partners in education and advocacy around privatization, school closures, co-locations of charter schools, district finances, and charter law. They’ve continued to push back against an inequitable “underutilization formula” that harms Black and brown children and against co-locations and school closures that target Black and brown communities, and work to strengthen community schools that serve all children.
Since its inception in 1972, the school has been committed to reflecting the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of San Francisco.
The visionary social justice lens allows students and their families to analyze the current social reality, empowering them to transform the community for the betterment of all.
The Six Pillars of Community Schools
Community schools include six pillars of practice, which are adaptable to the needs of an individual school’s students, staff, families, and community.
Community schools 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. Learning and enrichment activities are provided before and after the regular school day, including sports, the arts, and homework assistance. Parents and families are supported through adult education that is responsive to their emerging needs.
Teachers at community schools 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, sharing their knowledge and expertise.
The leadership teams of community schools include educators, other school staff, parents, students, and community members. They 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, including thinking about sustainability, such as organizing resources in new and more effective ways.
Community schools emphasize positive relationships and interactions. 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. Negative behaviors and truancy are acknowledged and addressed in ways that hold students accountable while showing they are still valued members of the school community. Zero-tolerance practices leading to suspension and expulsion are avoided.
Families, caregivers, and community members are partners in community schools. Their engagement is not related to a specific project or program but is ongoing and extends beyond volunteerism to roles in decision-making, governance, and advocacy.
Community schools recognize that students often come to school with challenges that impact their ability to learn, explore, and develop in the classroom. 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 wrap-around services are integrated into the fabric of the school. Connections to the community are critically important, so support services and referrals are available for families and other community members. (CRE: April 2019)