Public Schools as the Center of Our Communities
‘It’s About Empowerment’:
Community Schools Lift Families
by Sylvia Saunders
If you knew your investment would get a 20-to-1 return, wouldn’t you think it’s a pretty smart move?“
Community schools are the biggest bang for your buck,” Rome Teachers Association President Rob Wood told Central New York lawmakers during a recent online advocacy meeting. “For every dollar you invest in a site coordinator, we get $20 of payback — that‘s an amazing return on investment.”
Wood, whose union-led Connected Community Schools model has spread to 40 schools in a dozen area school districts, said the pandemic has highlighted tremendous community needs and the important role community schools can play. Wood is a member of NYSUT’s Future Forward Task Force that is recommending the state invest $100 million in new funding to double the number of districts using the community school model.
Community schools offer a valuable coordination of services to support students and families in need with housing, food insecurity, transportation, health care, dental needs and mental health. Families can access job and career resources, and some community school programs even offer cooking or technology classes for adults to help them develop valuable personal and professional skills.
”We’re using schools as a hub for connecting children and families with essential services, whether it’s access to after-school care, technology or even adequate clothing,” Wood said. “Our students can’t focus on academics if they’re worried about where their next meal is coming from or where they’ll be sleeping tonight.”
Community schools offer community-based wraparound supports that can prevent a crisis, said social worker Adrienne Cohan, vice president of the Starpoint TA. In rural districts there are not a lot of counseling options and many families lack transportation to access services.
In a RAND Corporation study of successful programs in New York City, community schools were proven to have a positive impact on student attendance, credit accumulation and on-time progression. Students experienced an increased sense of connectedness to adults and peers and there was a reduction in disciplinary incidents.
At the core of effective community school initiatives is a wellplanned coordination of services by a dedicated community school director/coordinator who brings in grants, leverages existing government funding, spearheads fundraising and works with local community-based organizations and businesses to provide services.
Melissa Roys, executive director of the Connected Community Schools Alliance, said the community school model spurs an amazing spirit of giving and community service.
Roys said one of their most popular events is the “Operation Elves Shopping Store,” where adults and children can select gifts for their loved ones. The store will serve about 1,300 students and families this year.
“We even provide the wrapping paper,” Roys said. “It’s about empowerment.”
Future Forward Task Force Recommendation
NYSUT recommends new annual funding of $100 million be provided in the 2022-23 state budget dedicated specifically for creating additional community schools and supporting the hiring of community school directors/coordinators to lead the critical work of aligning community services with family and student needs. These funds could potentially double the number of districts utilizing the community school model in New York state.