At some point in this pandemic it occured to me that what we need is a total system for caring for our school-age children. The growing political divide between federal, state and local school jurisdictions has only accelerated under the COVID-19 crisis and the in-equities that students experience under normal conditions are growing as well. Our students need integrated student supports such as equitable access to quality instruction, comprehensive emotional support, timely access to health care and robust physical outlets such as recess, sports, and yoga. We might want to consider the idea of community schools as a way for federal dollars to be properly channeled into local action for integrated support for our students.
What is a Community School?
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the education system, the nonprofit sector, and local government agencies. While the specific programs and services vary according to local context, there are four key pillars of the community school approach.
Integrated student supports—includes mental and physical health care, nutrition support, housing assistance, and other wraparound services.
Expanded and enriched learning time—includes lengthening the school day and year, as well as enriching the curriculum through real-world learning opportunities.
Active family and community engagement—includes both service provision and meaningful partnership with parents and family members to support children’s learning.
Collaborative leadership and practices—includes coordination of community school services as well as site-based leadership teams and teacher learning communities.—Learning Policy Institute
In this configuration of a regular public school, non-profits and other neighborhood organizations would be invited to develop a clear contractual relationship by which a more diverse set of services could be offered to all students in your school. The school schedule would accommodate a variety of push-in services, time for students to take care of their needs, and a welcome policy for parents to join as partners in good education, healthy living and successful physical exercise. Learning time would be expanded as the school day would be lengthened to full-day attendance.
This may lead to an unrealized goal of pulling the community together in support of caring for the child. The pandemic has falsely pitted parents against teachers, teachers against school leaders, and school leaders against employers who want their employees back when school can be restarted. A community school process could be the key to opening up schools safely and wisely because it would reflect a cross-sector opinion for the policies that are needed to keep our kids, our teachers and our parents safe. A cross-sector partnership would also reflect the values of each community as it would allow for different solutions to the problem of re-opening, instructional support, and mental health support. A cross-sector strategy would also build the bridges that we need for students to cross as they become aware of why their education is providing them with the tools to work in their community. As our schools invite a clinic onto their property, students see the need for health care workers. As schools invite food preparers, physical education specialists, and mental health workers into our buildings our students will see how schools and businesses need each other to thrive.
Perhaps one of the most important reasons to invite the community into the schools is that educational ideas for equity can be valued by the community. Equity is thinking about all of our students instead of just some of our students. Equity as a community value needs to achieve a common working definition with education. This cross-sector collaboration will benefit students in schools as they transition to work through internships, and when our community businesses finally hire all of them! We need to get on the same page for equity and access and that takes time to experience. Let’s invent a way to share this experience with each other. Community schools?