Community schools are not a new idea. Supplementing school-day instruction with additional learning opportunities and other services has been taking place in the United States communities since the late 1800’s, when urban settlement houses supported immigrants through inclusive community and education programs. (National Center for Community Schools 2012)
The model used in today’s community schools reflects the lessons learned from this long history. One of the major insights from earlier decades of community school efforts is that their work must be integrated with the schools they serve. To accomplish this, present-day community schools are based on three interconnected support systems:
· A strong core instructional program during the school day that helps all students meet high academic standards
· Expanded learning opportunities that enrich the learning environment for students and their families
· A full range of partner relationships – including mental and physical health, and social services—that promote student and community well-being and remove barriers to learning (National Center for Community Schools 2012).
Community schools are built through partnerships between schools and a variety of community resources. Such partnerships, and the activities and services they provide, establish schools as vital hubs that benefit students, their families, and the surrounding community. Research indicates these benefits include improved student learning, health, and attendance; stronger family engagement; an improved school climate; and safer neighborhoods (National Center for Community Schools 2012).
The objective of the effort is to establish neighborhood schools as the center of community activities while also providing a variety of services on campus that meet students’ physical, emotional, and other needs. If implemented effectively, this strategy can also benefit the community by addressing issues such as crime prevention, community health, and improved economic opportunities.
It is critically important to note that education alone is not the answer. In The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in American School, concluded that the longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers. This report examined the dimensions of four distinct gaps in education: between the United States and other nations, between black and Latino students and white students, between students of different income levels, and between similar students schooled in different systems or regions. The report finds that achievement gaps are extremely costly. According to the authors, existing gaps impose the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession. For individuals, avoidable shortfalls in academic achievement impose heavy and often tragic consequences via lower earnings, poor health, and higher rates of incarceration (McKinsey and Company 2009).
When the most recent international comparisons were released, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “Being average in reading and science and below average in math is not nearly good enough in a knowledge economy where scientific and technological literacy is so central to sustaining innovation and international competitiveness” (Duncan, 2010).