Even the most well trained, experienced and dedicated teacher will have a very hard time helping students overcome untreated health conditions and the many other barriers often brought about by poverty. This is the reason why many educators, including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), back the comprehensive student supports provided by community Schools as an effective strategy to help teachers concentrate on teaching.
In our experience at the Children’s Aid Society Community Schools in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) representatives have been our strongest allies from the start. Early independent evaluations of our schools reported an unexpected result: significantly higher teacher attendance and retention than at contrast schools. Other key results were: higher student attendance, reduced mobility, greater parent/family engagement and better school climate. No wonder teachers wanted to come to work.
Several evaluations of other community schools initiatives report similar findings. Studies of the national Communities in Schools program, the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods initiative in Multnomah County, Oregon, and the Chicago Community Schools Initiative have also demonstrated improved student attendance and reduced mobility, which can only help teachers’ practice as they lose less instructional time to catching up students who have been absent and to integrating new students into their classrooms later in the year. Several features of community schools contribute to these results, including the on-site or school-linked comprehensive health services, the timely availability of social services to address family problems, and the access to engaging expanded learning opportunities afterschool and during summer. Chronic early absenteeism, highly correlated with health and family problems, is another huge hurdle that the community school strategy is designed to address.
Community schools are equipped to tackle many of the non-educational issues that hinder learning, when carefully aligning services and programs and truly partnering with teachers, school administrators, students and parents. Once they get over the “who moved my chalk?” syndrome, even reluctant teachers recognize the advantages of having solid partners that help clear the way for them to concentrate on teaching. Why should a teacher be the social worker, psychologist, case manager, foster parent?
The fall 2012 issue of Partnership Press shares thoughts and strategies from CAS schools, from our colleagues at the Community Learning Centers in Cincinnati and from MIOS, the International Association of Interactive Open Schools, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia.
We dedicate this issue of Partnership Press to its creator, Richard Negrón, Director of the Children’s Aid Society Community Schools Division since 2002. Richard was the first director of IS218 (Salomé Ureña de Henriquez Campus), our first community school that opened in 1992. He was also director of the National Center from 1998 to 2002 and contributed a great deal to the growth of the CAS schools and to expanding the strategy around the country and abroad. His contribution to CAS and to the community schools field has been enormous. He truly helped define what it means to be a community school. We will continue his work and cherish his legacy. Thank you, Richard!
Jane Quinn and Hersilia Méndez