A few weeks ago, a little girl was tragically hit by a car outside of our school. She remains in the hospital, but according to doctors, will come home eventually. Nevertheless, it will be a long trek ahead. But this isn't what this post is about. This post is about the community that came together as a result of this horrible event and the potential towards collaborative advocacy that, I believe, was unlocked in the process.
Immediately, hashtags were promoted, booths were erected, fundraising began. In addition, parents donned bright vests and stationed themselves as volunteer crossing guards while the cities around us debated whose responsibility it was to provide such services.
In the blink of an eye, we had become a Community School.
In many schools, there are amazing volunteers who help organize events, supervise areas, and support the needs of the staff. There are parents who run the book fairs, attend field trips, lead art projects, and sit on various committees. These are, however, typically from the same pool of volunteers.
Nevertheless, a line still seems to exist between the traditional school model and the entire community it serves.
What we really need are partners if we are to take our educational system to the next level, because we can't do it alone. So I thought I'd examine what it might be like to more fully embrace a Community School model.
SO WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A COMMUNITY SCHOOL?
It takes reaching a philosophical consensus. Many blame schools for not being more involved in social-emotional learning. Flip them with those who believe that the only role school should have is in teaching reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Then there are those who simply feel schools can't take on more than we already do. But a community school puts raising children on the backs of all, and that distributes the responsibility in a different way. It recognizes that we all have a part to play in student success.
It takes a school that is willing to take on the responsibility of being a hub for other events and outreach. The school must be willing to partner with other organizations to help guide students and families alike. It takes opening up doors, much like Willy Wonka did after all those years, and welcoming in outside experts and alternative schedules in order to provide additional services to community members.
It takes a local community that wants to step up and play a role in providing services (both educational and entertaining) for families in their area. The local society must acknowledge that they too have more than a guest-starring role in raising the local children. As a report by the United Federation of Teachers suggests, "We must ensure that all stakeholders that have an impact on children's lives - families, schools, hospitals...businesses, social service providers, places of worship... - are aligned to provide essential services" for our kids.
It takes money. I believe, however, that there is money out there. In California, for instance, we have the LCAP (Local Control Accountability Program) funding that actually is broken into goals towards outreach and enrichment. This aligns with community school models. Of course, it can't just be the schools that foot the bill. Community partners have to be brought in so that the door swings both ways.
Everyone should lend their expertise to training our students, and the more we adopt a model where the walls between home and school are pliable, the greater an impact we will have on our young clients.
SO WHY AREN'T ALL SCHOOLS COMMUNITY SCHOOLS?
The answer might be found in fear. Schools are fearful to take on more responsibility and then fall short of that goal.
Families are fearful because many don't fully buy-in to what schools provide as is. The constant debate in the media against curriculum and methodologies doesn't help instill confidence in our schools or our teachers. We are met, many times, with skepticism and doubt.
Schools and families are at a point where were have to take matters into our own hands and band together. Life has become a struggle for many, and while we watch policymakers debate what to do about health care, family services, adult education, k12 education, and career readiness, it's time to leave them to their discussions. We have children to raise.
HOW CAN WE ADOPT SOME PRINCIPLES FROM THE COMMUNITY SCHOOL MODEL?
Don't wait for those outside of your community. Site by site, district by district, decide what services your community needs. Let schools become the go-to places that help educate parents and students alike. Bring diverse voices to the table to help brainstorm funding. Invite support from the experts in your community.
According to The Coalition of Community Schools, the philosophy is built on four pillars:
2. Health Education
3. Family Engagement
4. Community Participation
So what might this look like?
* Become a community center after the bell rings, and begin offering afterschool programs that offer enrichment along with remediation. These programs could be teacher supervised yet volunteer-led.
* Host regular health fairs on the campuses. Provide flu shots, seminars, resources, and access to professionals.
* Think like a collage campus and bring in guest speakers routinely. Provide cultural experiences that families can enjoy together.
* Allow partnerships with local community businesses. Have them promote school events on their public bulletin boards and regularly sponsor different programs or events on campus. Solicit experts from within these businesses to help share their expertise with students and parents.
We talk about schools providing a vast net for our students, but our nets have become frayed and the holes torn wide. Families are feeling the same way.
Help elevate the role of schools in your community. You don't have to adopt all of the pillars, but even raising one helps to stitch up those holes and tighten that net of cradle to college support.