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Schools + Communities = Success
By Gene R. Carter, Executive Director, ASCD
At Thomas Edison Elementary School in Port Chester, N.Y., sick students receive prompt medical attention at the school's health center, and a dentist visits weekly to provide care. A bilingual family caseworker helps parents advocate for their children's education, and weekly parent gatherings offer information on everything from state standards to citizenship. An after-school program provides students with enrichment opportunities. And new teachers at the school participate in a two-year induction program, while veteran teachers hone their practice by taking free or reduced-cost classes at a local college.
How can one school accomplish all this? The answer is: It can't. Thomas Edison is a full-service K–5 community school that provides its students and their families with a full complement of education, health, and social services by leveraging the resources of a number of partners, including Open Door Medical Center, an organization that offers medical care to underserved families.
Ten years into its efforts, Edison is seeing results. In 1999, only 19 percent of Edison's 4th graders passed the state's English language arts assessment, and only 75 percent passed the math test. In 2006, 93 percent of the school's 4th graders passed the English test, and 89 percent passed in math. Those gains were accomplished with a high-need student population—more than 80 percent of the school's students receive free or reduced-price lunch and almost 50 percent are English language learners.
Since the school created its health center, the percent of Edison's students who are medically insured and receive ongoing health care has more than quadrupled. As a result of intensive outreach, Edison's immigrant parents are now actively involved with the school. And the teacher retention rate has increased, in part because of a relationship with Manhattanville College.
If one school's success with this model isn't convincing enough, consider the Coalition for Community Schools' review of 20 community school initiatives nationwide. Its analysis found that 15 of the 20 community schools improved student learning, as measured by better grades and proficiency test scores. Moreover, community schools can increase family engagement, improve access to physical and mental health services, and build community pride (Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools, 2003).
ASCD's Healthy School Communities program proves the community school model works in a variety of settings. We began the program in 2006 to provide opportunities for school communities across the world to share best practices about how schools and communities can work together to create healthy environments that support learning and teaching. The effort includes a pilot study of 11 diverse school community partnerships that focus on health and learning. Urban schools like the Barclay School in Baltimore, Md., and rural schools like Des Moines Municipal Schools in Des Moines, N.Mex., have had success working with community partners to meet the unique needs of their respective populations, whether offering rich after-school programming to ensure students build on their academic learning and spend their afternoons in a safe and engaging setting, or arranging for delivery of fresh produce so students benefit from fresh fruits and vegetables.
In last month's column, I emphasized how the responsibility of holistically supporting students rests with the whole community. Full-service community schools have taken this concept to the ultimate level by forging partnerships with community-based public and private organizations. These partnerships mean children are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—in sum, each student is treated like the whole child he or she is.
ASCD believes educating the whole child is essential for students to reach their highest potential and become engaged citizens who creatively contribute to our global society. Our 2008 Legislative Agenda acknowledges the unique capacity of community schools to promote the development of the whole child. We urge Congress to target resources, support, and incentives for the delivery of comprehensive services offered in collaboration with schools.
Nurturing the whole child is not the sole responsibility of our schools. Models like those used by Thomas Edison Elementary School and ASCD's Healthy School Communities sites work because they capitalize on community resources to help our children reach their highest potential.
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