Community schools work with partners (like local government agencies and nonprofits) to provide comprehensive supports and opportunities that are carefully selected to meet the unique needs and interests of students and families, and that are rooted in the existing resources and knowledge of their particular neighborhoods.
In community schools, explicit attention to challenges children face—such as lack of stable housing, inadequate medical and dental care, hunger, trauma, and exposure to violence—helps students to attend school and be ready to learn, setting them up for academic and life success. Deep engagement with families and community members helps to enrich curriculum and learning opportunities, which in turn reinforces community pride and a commitment to shared goals, all while strengthening the school.
A community school has four “pillars”:
Integrated student supports, such as health care, behavioral health, and dental services;
Expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities, including lengthening the school day/year, offering after-school and summer programs and/or broadening the curriculum to include enrichment and community-based learning;
Collaborative leadership and practices, such as shared goal setting and decision making, among students, families, teachers, school staff, school/district administrators, and staff from community-based partner organizations.
These four pillars reinforce each other. Together, they ensure that students are engaged and that everyone in the school community feels welcome and supported. They also promote a culture of trust, respect, and collaboration between teachers and administrators and among all school staff, parents, and the broader community.
What makes the community schools strategy particularly effective is the integration of these four pillars; the customization of services, supports, and practices based on the unique assets, needs, and collective vision of each school community; and a focus on advancing shared goals for student learning and success.
Research conducted by the Learning Policy Institute has shown that the Communities In Schools model has a positive impact on both short- and long-term student success indicators. Their research indicates that schools that have implemented the Communities In Schools model with fidelity have seen improvements on academic achievement, student attendance, student behavior, school culture and climate, and quality family engagement.
- Oakes, J., Maier, A., & Daniel, J. (2017). Community Schools:
An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement.
The Communities In Schools model provides school-wide (Tier I) supports that are available to all students and include tutoring, attendance incentives and access to basic needs support that include healthy food (through food pantries, daily snacks, and free weekly grocery distribution), emergency funds (for rent, utilities, transportation), clothing (including shoes, winter coats, and hygiene supplies), school supplies, and health clinics.
In addition, approximately 10% of the students we serve- those who are identified by principals, teachers, and school wellness staff as most at-risk- receive intensive case management (Tier III) or individual targeted support. Case management includes an individual needs assessment, a tailored support plan, referrals to expanded and enriched learning time groups and outside services, and metric goals for improvement in attendance, behavior, or academics.
Expanded and Enriched Learning Time and Opportunities
The Communities In Schools model includes after school enrichment programs, tutoring and mentoring, and social/emotional support. Communities In Schools' targeted (Tier II) social/emotional wellness supports include weekly small groups (during school or after school hours) such as: anti-bullying initiatives, positive behavior supports, grief and trauma support, and support for immigrant students (including tutoring and mentoring in both native and target language).
Active Family and Community Engagement
Communities In Schools Site Coordinators provide student/parent and family nights, classes for
parents and weekly parent coffees. They facilitate communication between parents and school staff. They provide advocacy for families (including support for immigrant and non-English speaking families) and individualized support, home visits, and referrals to outside agencies. They work with family, teachers, and community agencies and service providers to help families navigate services and ensure they are surrounded with a community of support that helps them to feel empowered as participants in the school and greater
Communities In Schools Site Coordinators work closely with each school’s Site Based Leadership Team (principals, teachers, school wellness staff, families, service providers and community stakeholders) to survey and assess the school community and assess the community’s unique needs and assets. Site Coordinators create an
annual School Support Plan rooted in strategies that will improve five key indicators- attendance, behavior and social-emotional skills, academic
performance, access to basic needs, and parent/family/community engagement. Supports are adjusted throughout the school year with ongoing input from the Site Based Leadership Team.