United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life.

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As the needs of Southwest Virginians change, so too do the best practices for meeting those needs.

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Join us in our fight for our friends and neighbors in Southwest Virginia by exploring the options below.

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United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life.

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1. What is a Community School?

Using schools as hubs, community schools bring educators, families, and community partners together to offer a range of opportunities, supports, and services to children, youth as well as their families and communities. Community schools:

  • Provide expanded learning opportunities that are motivating and engaging during the school day, after school, and in the summer; and
  • Offer essential health and social supports and services;
  • Engage families and communities as assets in the lives of their children and youth.

Every community school responds to unique local needs and includes the voices of students, families, and residents.  Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone—beyond school hours, including evenings and weekends. 

Community schools have a climate and culture that enable students to develop cognitive, social, emotional, physical, civic, and ethical competencies and the capacity to thrive in college, career, and life and as participants in our democracy.

Think of community schools as both a strategy and a place. A strategy for bringing together educators, families and community stakeholders to attain collective impact; a place where the community gathers to support the education of its children and youth and a place through which its young people are connected to learning experiences across the community.

2. What are the key conditions for learning that Community Schools work to fulfill?

Schools, together with their communities, must work to fulfill six conditions for learning that we have identified as necessary for every child to succeed, based on an analysis of research.  These conditions are:

  • Early childhood development is fostered through high-quality, comprehensive programs that nurture learning and development.
  • The school has a core instructional program with qualified teachers, a challenging curriculum, and high standards and expectations for students.
  • Students are motivated and engaged in learning -- both in school and in community settings, during and after school.
  • The basic physical, mental and emotional health needs of young people and their families are recognized and addressed.
  • There is mutual respect and effective collaboration among parents, families and school staff.
  • Community engagement, together with school efforts, promotes a school climate that is safe, supportive, and respectful and connects students to a broader learning community.

3. What happens at a Community School, and what is the curriculum like?

Community schools focus on four areas:  expanded learning opportunities, health and social supports and services, family and community engagement, and early childhood development.  Particular programs and services vary school-to-school based on local needs and goals.

a.EXPANDED LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES: Learning takes place both inside and outside of the typical school day—at home, and in the community.  Community school partnerships leverage community partners to make learning engaging, motivating, and community-based. Youth have a voice and choice in what they learn and give back to the community. Areas of expanded learning of interest include:

  • Engaging Instruction: Community schools offer personalized learning during the school day that emphasizes real-world learning, career-focused learning, community service and community problem solving, and instills 21st-century skills. Partnerships with local higher education institutions, businesses, arts and cultural institutions, environmental organizations and community-based organizations make this possible.
  • Out of School Time: Community schools expand learning opportunities are linked to the curriculum before and after school, during the summer and/or by extending the school day and year. 
  • Youth Development: Community schools provide enriching experiences for young people built on strong adult youth relationships and peer learning. Activities might include mentoring, conflict resolution and mediation, student advocacy, youth leadership, and others that enable young people to find and build on their strengths.
  • College, Career, and Citizenship: Community schools ensure that students aspire to college, a productive career, and active citizenship. Included are early and continuous exposure to college and career opportunities; visits to higher education institutions and businesses; college prep activities including counseling, test preparation, support in the application process and with financial aid; and sustained support during key transitions.

b.HEALTH AND SOCIAL SUPPORTS AND SERVICES: Community schools offer a wide array of supports and services for students and families -- from health and mental health to family supports, from feeding programs and substance abuse prevention to crisis intervention and counseling, and an array of other supports within the broad rubrics of health and social services.

c.FAMILY & COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Youth spend much of their time at home and in the community. These are learning opportunities that community schools are able to leverage. We are interested in workshops that demonstrate how families and communities support learning inside of the school building, and how the school and its partners create learning opportunities in the home.

  • Family Engagement: With the intent of engaging families more deeply in the education of their children, community schools offer an array of activities (e.g., opportunities for families to participate in school decision-making and volunteer inside the classroom or as resource staff, parent leadership and parenting education programs, and home visits by teachers).
  • Community Engagement: In sustainable community schools, community stakeholders help develop and execute the vision. Together with school leaders, community stakeholders plan and implement programs such as GED, ESL, and job training classes, and food and clothing pantries. They also offer community activities such as arts, cultural and athletic events and provide a place to gather and solve specific community problems.
  • Youth and Community Organizing: Community schools have strong relationships with youth and community organizing groups that seek positive change in the school and community, and ensure accountability to the community.

d.EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT: Community schools offer early childhood experiences that build linkages between early childhood programs in the community and the school to ensure a continuity of support across a child’s development through age 5 and into elementary school. In this process, community schools provide blueprints for sustainable and replicable 0-8 early childhood education systems.

4. What are the key ingredients in organizing and operating Community Schools?

Community schools intentionally create an infrastructure that enables educators and community partners to forge strong relationships and align their assets and expertise to move the needle on key indicators related to young people’s success.  Here are the key ingredients for a strong community school:

  • Principals, who know their community, see achieving equity as fundamental to their work, and make their building a place where educators, partners, and the public feel comfortable working together.
  • Skilled teachers and instructional support personnel, who have high expectations for their students, enjoy collaborative relationships with families and community partners, and offer students robust learning experiences that draw on community resources and expertise.
  • Community partners with the expertise to help achieve the goals of the community school and who are well integrated into the life of the school.
  • community schools coordinator, who serves as a bridge between school and community, aligns the work of educators and community partners toward a common set of results, and supports a site leadership team.
  • site leadership team that gives families, young people, and residents a voice and involves them, along with educators and community partners in the planning, implementation, and oversight of the community school.
  • community needs and assets assessment that identifies the needs of students, schools, families, and the community as well as the assets of individuals, formal institutions and agencies, and informal organizations in the community that can be mobilized to meet these needs.
  • A focus on results and accountability that uses data to define specific indicators which the community school seeks to improve, and the capacity to collect and analyze data to measure progress.

5. How are Community Schools funded?

Funding for community schools can be structured in many ways. In fact, it’s likely that no two community schools are funded the same. The most sustainable funding arrangements draw from a diverse pool of funders—often pulling together existing resources and redirecting them to support the programs and supports that the school offers.

One helpful strategy is to think about funding your community schools in two essential parts: funding the community schools coordinator, and funding opportunities and supports. 

Funding a Community School Coordinator

Finding funding to pay for a community school coordinator is pivotal, since this individual is responsible for mobilizing community resources and integrating them into the life of the school. A community school coordinator can be employed by a school district, community-based organization, university, or public agency. Funding typically comes from multiple public and private sources. Salaries for this position should be at a professional level and competitive with those of people in similar roles, e.g., teachers and social workers.  Monies from school systems, United Ways, community foundations, local government, higher education institutions, CBOs and others are being utilized for this purpose.  

Funding Opportunities, Supports and Services

Opportunities, supports and services at community schools are financed through a variety of public and private funding streams. These funds come from every conceivable funding stream dedicated to address the needs of young people and families.  At the federal and state levels, the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Justice funds may be involved.  In addition, foundations, corporations and individuals provide funding. 

Often these funds are not in the hands of school districts; however, local government, community-based organizations, health systems, and other community partners manage them. 

The opportunity is to create an environment in the community school that encourages community partners to bring their programs into the school and encourages the school to reach out into the community.

Resources inside the School

Schools may have social workers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists, often called special instructional support personnel, or they may finance after school programs or other opportunities and supports for students (e.g., mentoring).  These assets must be integrated with those of community partners so that all resources are focused on common goals and used effectively and efficiently.

6. Why do we need Community Schools? How do Community Schools address equity?

Research and experience tell us that all of our young people need a wide range of learning opportunities and supports to succeed. A quality academic program is necessary, but it is not sufficient. It is also essential to address the myriad interdependent factors that affect our young people’s success, including the rising opportunity gap and the inequities in many students’ lives. Community schools are the vehicle for doing both.

7. Is there national support for the Community Schools model?

 A poll done by GBA Solutions shows that 4 out of 5 people polled are excited about the community schools concept. In the poll the model is described by saying that "schools would serve as community hubs, providing health and social services, youth community development, parental education, as well as academics for students. Community schools integrate high-quality dynamic curriculum with after-school and summer enrichment programs, ensuring that every student and their family get the opportunity to succeed no matter what zip code they live in."

8. What are the guiding principles driving the operation of Community Schools?

There are many community school models that tend to share a core set of operating principles. These include:

  • Strive towards equity – Fairness and opportunity are fundamental moral underpinnings of American education and democracy.  Community schools mobilize the human, institutional, and financial resources of their communities needed to close the opportunity gap and the achievement gap and ensure that all young people have a fair chance at success. 
  • Foster strong partnerships -- Partners share their resources and expertise and work together to design community schools and make them work.
  • Share accountability for results -- Clear, mutually agreed-upon results drive the work of community schools. Data helps partners measure progress toward results, and agreements enable them to hold each other accountable and move beyond "turf battles."
  • Set high expectations for all -- Community schools are organized to support learning. Children, youth and adults are expected to learn at high standards and be contributing members of their community.
  • Build on the community's strengths -- Community schools marshal the assets of the entire community -- including the people who live and work there, local organizations, and the school.
  • Embrace diversity -- Community schools know their communities. They work to develop respect and a strong, positive identity for people of diverse backgrounds and are committed to the welfare of the whole community.
  • Advocate local decision-making – To unleash the power of local communities, local leaders make decisions about their community schools strategy, while individual schools respond to their unique circumstances.

9. What are the major differences between a Community School and a regular school?

Community schools are an intentional school transformation strategy focused on results with participation from school and community leaders, educators, community partners, students, families, and residents. A regular school may have community partners and programs, but they typically operate in silos and are not well-aligned with the school’s academic plans and goals.

Community schools also differ in how they view the community around them and how they work with community partners. Community schools see the community as a resource for learning and development and as a partner in the education of its children.  They develop respectful and mutually beneficial relationships with families, neighborhood residents; and agencies and organizations are concerned with the well-being of children and youth.

Community schools have three major advantages that schools acting alone do not.

Community Schools:

  • Garner additional resources to reduce the demand on school staff for addressing all the challenges that students bring to school.
  • Provide learning opportunities that develop cognitive, social, emotional, physical and civic competencies.
  • Build social capital—the networks and relationships that support learning and create opportunities for young people—while strengthening their communities. 

Operationally, community schools typically have a coordinator who is responsible for aligning the work of educators and community partners and aligning their programs with the goals of the school.  Community Schools coordinators sit on the School Leadership Team.  Look here for position descriptions of community school coordinators.

10. Is there a logic model for Community Schools?

Yes, go to community schools logic model and see how we think about community schools.

11. Do Community Schools work?

A research review of community school models by Child Trends found growing evidence that community schools reduce grade retention and dropout rates while they increase school attendance, math achievement, and grade-point averages.                                                                

A recent Coalition research brief concludes that:

  • Student learning improves.
  • Student attendance improves.
  • Students show improved behavior.
  • Parent and family participation—in their children’s education and in the school—increases.
  • Families have more opportunities and support in caring for and helping to educate their children and in contributing to their community.

Similar findings appear in studies from different communities across the nation.

  • A return on investment study by The Finance Project and the National Center for Community Schools shows a social return of $10-$14 for each dollar invested in community schools.
  • Students in high-implementing community schools in Tulsa, Okla. had math scores 32 points higher than those in other Tulsa schools; their reading scores were 19 points higher.
  • Evaluators of Baltimore’s community school initiative found that experienced community schools had significantly better attendance and lower chronic absence than non-community schools. From 2009 to 2014, experienced community schools increased their average attendance rates by 1.6%, compared to a 1.8% decrease for non-community schools, and decreased early chronic absence rates by 4.1%, compared to non-community schools, where early chronic absence increased by 3.6%.

12. Are there differences between the terms Community School, full-service Community School, and Community Learning Center?

No. The term "community school" is the most common. However, many people use the terms above and others interchangeably.   The Coalition is less concerned with the nuanced differences between these terms and focuses more on encouraging people to expand on their own vision of school and community relationships, strengthening the learning experience, and adding additional opportunities and supports over time to achieve better outcomes for young people as well as their families and communities.  We believe this approach will lead people toward the vision of a community school that we have set forth. Each community develops its own language to describe its community schools (e.g., Beacons, schools as hubs, community resource centers, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) schools).

13. Do Community Schools have to be public schools?

Any school can be a community school. This includes regular public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, parochial schools and private schools. However, most existing community schools are public schools.

14. Where can I find some examples of Community School initiatives?

For examples of community schools, see profiles of Coalition for Community Schools' most recent Community School Initiative awardees here.

15. Where can I find resources, toolkits, and technical assistance information on Community Schools?

Looking to start a community school? The following resources and tools will help you design and implement community schools at the school-site level.  These resources are divided into several interconnected steps that will help you get started.

Tools for Starting a Community School

Looking to create a scaled-up community school initiative? See the Coalition’s Scale-Up Guide! This interactive guide describes the what, why, and how of system-wide expansion of community schools and is written for communities at different points in planning, implementing, and sustaining a Community Schools strategy.

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