Last week, in a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., six schools and community-based initiatives across the country were recognized for their excellence in utilizing the community schools model. The Coalition for Community Schools highlighted the considerable achievements of schools from New York City, Nashville, Chicago and Oakland.
The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) also presented new research at the event that supported the use of the community schools model as an evidence-based strategy for school improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires that all interventions meet the “evidence-based” requirement, and this new research suggests that community schools more than meet that standard.
The community schools model may be a particularly effective strategy for improving schools in areas that struggle with high rates of poverty, because it creates a support system for students and families that addresses needs outside of the academic curriculum. Community schools create a system of partnerships and collaborations that address the needs of each child not only as a learner but also as a community member.
Because the needs and assets of each community are unique, there is no one formula for creating a community school. Each community school takes a unique approach to the model depending upon the circumstances of its students and families. However, all form partnerships and collaborations to create a set of integrated services that meet the needs of the whole child. Most are open before and after school—some even on weekends and during the summer—to provide students with wraparound support. Community schools provide services such as physical and mental health screenings, parent and community resources, and expanded learning opportunities like sports and arts programs.
Despite the variety of approaches, NEPC and LPI were able to identify common aspects of the community schools model that lead to success, including a wraparound student support system and a high degree of community collaboration and engagement. The newly released research also found that for every dollar invested in a community school, there will be a $10 to $15 return on investment within the community. In the awardee schools, chronic absenteeism and discipline referrals have decreased, test scores have increased, and fast academic growth has resulted in rising state ratings. Across the board, students and families report closer school and community ties. Using a wraparound support system, community schools may be a tool to close achievement gaps, prepare students for college and future careers, and promote positive outcomes throughout the broader community.