Dutch Treat: Netherlands Community Schools Welcome Newcomers

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The National Technical Assistance Center for Community Schools is proud of the connection it has had to the Netherlands Community Schools Initiative since its inception in 1994. Since then, at least 15 delegations of Dutch colleagues − including educators, human service professionals and elected officials − have visited our community schools in New York City, attended our biannual Practicum conference, hosted visits to their schools in Amsterdam and Groningen, and shared information about their successes and challenges. In this special issue of Partnership Press, we highlight some of the ways in which these sister schools help immigrants adapt to their new land. Gerard van de Burgwal is a Magnet and Extended Education Consultant in the Netherlands. He is one of the earliest and most faithful champions of the community schools initiative in Holland and is an admirer of the American Community Schools Movement (he is bringing yet another large group for a study visit to New York on March 23 and 24). He provided the following account:

We now have close to a thousand community schools in the Netherlands, and this number is expected to grow in the next couple of years. No two of our community schools look exactly the same − there is not just one model in Holland. You find community schools in deprived as well as affluent areas, in rural and in urban settings.

Essential components in the Netherlands community schools are early childhood, parental involvement, health care and extended-day programs. Some of those schools have programs in the evenings, on the weekends and during holidays. Many of our community schools function as community centers.

Certainly, in urban areas, you’ll find community schools in neighborhoods that are mainly populated by immigrant families. In those areas, community schools do play an important role in the education of immigrant families and their children. Of all the programs in our community schools, the following are the most important:

1. Early childhood programs that include programs for parents, in which they learn strategies for supporting their own children. A very important focus of those programs is acquisition of the Dutch language;

2. Pedagogical support programs for parents in which they work together with other parents and professionals on their parenting skills;

3. Health and youth care organized around a nationwide provision called Centers for Youth and Family, modeled on the English Children’s Centres. Parents of children and teenagers in the age range of 0-19 can use such a center, which you might find in a community school;

4. Out-of-school time programs, which include after-school programs, a summer school and a weekend academy. The main focus of those programs is youth development, but you’ll also find programs in which successful immigrants work as positive examples with children. Right now there is a show on one of the Dutch television channels in which a famous television actor works with a small group on improving their test scores.

In many of these programs, you will see successful neighborhood residents from the same immigrant backgrounds working with families and children in community schools. Many of these residents even attended the same school when they were growing up. The fact that they are still involved really means that we have been successful in creating a true sense of community.