Friday, December 28, 2012

Local Tragedies Spurs a Community School Advocate

By Colette Tipper, Coalition fall intern

Shortly before I started my internship at the Coalition for Community Schools, my mother and I got into an argument. Earlier in the summer, two local girls had been killed in a car crash, and that week, two boys and their mother were stabbed to death.  Recognizing the impact these tragedies would have on the students at our local schools, and that many parents in our community did not have the ability to get their children the help they may need, at least one of the school guidance counselors offered grief counseling to students, on her own time, during the summer. My mom didn’t think that was an appropriate or necessary support for schools to provide.  I knew that it was, and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, that’s when I became an advocate for community schools.

I don’t know if the guidance counselor or my school district realized that they were operating within the larger framework of a strategy that is gaining traction across the country. The community schools movement is about providing supports for students, parents, and the community as a whole in order to create better outcomes for all.  It’s so effective because it recognizes that kids’ lives aren’t divided into discrete parts; if they come to school without breakfast, they aren’t suddenly full by first period.  If they lose a friend in August, they haven’t gotten over it by the time the bell rings in September.  By offering school breakfasts and counseling to students, or resume workshops and ELL classes to adults, schools are able to use their considerable institutional power to not only altruistically enhance the lives of their customers, but also to help themselves by improving educational outcomes. By collaborating with local organizations, they are able to build stronger ties with the community as a whole, concentrating the greatest good in the most convenient place.

Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’re already familiar with both the strategy and its outcomes, and probably didn’t come here to have an intern explain it to you in a paragraph. Nevertheless, it has been a fantastic experience gaining the insight to even be able to write an entry such as this, and I know that wherever I’m off to next, I will come at my work from the perspective that engaging families, communities, and children in the educational experience is the surest way to improve the educational outcomes of everyone.

Colette is a recent graduate of Michigan State University

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