|Blog Series - Innovations in |
Expanded Learning Opportunities:
The Community Schools Strategy
By Annie Bogenschutz, Director of Training And Development, CommunityLearning Center Institute
Mark is a “good kid,” but has faced many challenges since his mother was incarcerated five years ago. She was recently released, and Mark moved back home after living with a family friend. It has been a tough process, though – he was happy to be reunited with his mom, but is having trouble leaving the home he has come to know. These changes have affected his grades, his temper, and even his sleeping habits.
Mark’s challenges do not end when school lets out – and neither should his supports. The opportunities and supports children need don’t go away just because school isn’t in session. To maintain a continuity of support, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) have opened their school buildings to families, communities, and partners, even when school is on break. Cincinnati Public School’s Community Learning Centers (Cincinnati calls its community schools “community learning centers” or CLCs) truly make schools the center of neighborhood activity and a community resource for students, families, and residents throughout the year.
Cincinnati’s CLCs are implementing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s vision for schools that are centers of the community. He regularly states that schools should be open to students and the community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (see his interview with Jon Stewart for example).
In Cincinnati, 100% of the 35 CLCs with a Resource Coordinator are open to the entire community during school breaks to the entire community. Approximately half of those are offering students a place to learn and develop their own skills through on-site partnerships. The other half connect their students to opportunities hosted by community partners near the school (e.g., a recreation center).
Like Mark, many students rely on CLCs. Mark attends Ethel M. Taylor Academy, one of Cincinnati’s CLCs. His school, like most in Cincinnati, partners with local organizations to provide academic, developmental, health, and other opportunities and supports that children and families need in order to thrive, both during and outside of the conventional school day. The school’s Local School Decision-Making Committee (LSDMC) – a leadership group comprised of the principal, teachers, parents, the Resource Coordinator, and others – selects partners and activities based on the unique needs of each school. These partners include Project GRAD Cincinnati (tutoring), Adopt-A-Class (mentoring), Central Clinic (after school), and the Children’s Home of Cincinnati (mental health), among others.
When Children’s Home and school staff observed social and anger issues in Mark’s life, they started working together to address Mark’s needs with both one-on-one and group counseling. With the help of the CLC’s Resource Coordinator, they are also able to link Mark to other opportunities such as after school activities and tutors, to keep Mark engaged with both his academic and enrichment needs.
This means that Mark’s school and other schools can offer academic, enrichment, health, and other supports year-round. Children’s Home of Cincinnati can hold therapy and group sessions for Mark and other students during winter, spring, and other breaks, thereby avoiding disruptions in badly needed services just because of the school calendar. Schools with mental health, early childhood, and health clinics necessarily stay open year-round. Partners can continue their enrichment and academic programs and be creative with how they work with students during breaks. Taking care of children is a community, not just a school, responsibility. Partners are able to think strategically about how to provide more for children at all times, even during school breaks.
Each CLC makes a decision about what opportunities they offer during school breaks. The unwritten policy is to never put a partner out of business. So if a partner, such as a local church, has traditionally offered programming during breaks, then the school will help them to continue. If, however, there is a dearth of options in a neighborhood, the school will work with partners to create opportunities for students during school breaks on the school campus.
In Cincinnati, one such example is Sayler Park School, a CLC close to the district’s border (the neighborhood was actually annexed by Cincinnati in 1911). The neighborhood doesn’t have the resources to provide enriching opportunities for its students during breaks, so the LSDMC asked the Boys and Girls Club, one of its partners that provides programming during the school year, to also offer academic and enrichment supports during school breaks, which they did.
Each CLC develops opportunities during break that are unique to their school. A few examples illustrate this point:
At Mt. Washington School, coordinator Ilene Hayes says that her school worked with their after school partner, the University of Cincinnati, and school leadership to hold a cooking class during winter break for 6th through 8th grade students. The meals were donated to the Ronald McDonald House. According to Ilene, the CLC recognized the importance of creating service learning opportunities for students.
At Oyler Community Learning Center, the school has been faced with high incidents of neighborhood violence. Coordinator Jami Harris reports that the school, which is open during break for early childhood and other activities, hosted a basketball tournament to keep kids safe and off the streets last winter break. Police reported to her that, for the first time in a long time, no kids were involved in criminal activities during break. The community is now creating these recreational opportunities during the summer as well. (Learn more about the great work at Oyler that NPR’s Marketplace captured in a special report).
Another CLC, Roberts Academy, offers character-building camps during Thanksgiving and spring breaks through its partner, the Anthony Munoz Foundation. Started by former Cincinnati Bengal Anthony Munoz, the foundation partners with Roberts throughout the school year. While they were already coordinating the WhizKids tutoring program during the school year, they wanted to offer Roberts and other children opportunities during breaks as well, when opportunities are harder to come by. The character camps serve between 35-50 young boys each session.
Finally, the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative and the University of Cincinnati’s GEARUP (Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness in Undergraduate Programs), a federally funded initiative, is in all 12 CPS high schools. Ten of those have resource coordinators. GEARUP takes students on college visits during school breaks, which helps them see a future where college is possible.
Cincinnati is able to overcome some of the challenges associated with offering opportunities and supports during the school break in such areas as:
Maintenance: Cincinnati has been able to address these challenges at the district and school level. Cincinnati’s board policy has been supportive towards year round programming because it allows for school buildings to be open and accessible throughout the year. At the site level, the resource coordinator works with the plant operator to come up with a cleaning and maintenance schedule that works for all parties and allows for undisruptive programming for children and families.
Utilities and Security: The school buildings are already monitored through the central office with 24-hour camera surveillance. Furthermore, since plant operators and custodians are in the building until 10 pm while school is in session, and until 4 pm during school breaks, utilities are never completely turned off.
Transportation: Most of Cincinnati’s schools are neighborhood schools and therefore, many students can walk to the school for services over school breaks. This is not always the case, and therefore, in some instances funding has been provided by partners for buses or cab tokens for families that need it.
Thanks to the CLC strategies just described, Mark is able to continue with his mental health and other CLC opportunities (such as enrichment at the Rec Center next door, a CLC partner) over break. Mark still has some way to go, but his grades are getting back on track, he has been better able to keep his anger under control, and he is transitioning to living with his mother full time – all things that would have been harder to achieve without strong community school partnerships!
While the focus of this post is on the expanded learning opportunities Cincinnati’s CLCs provide during school breaks, the CLCs are organized to support ELO across multiple time dimensions.
For more information about how to create community schools in your community, visit the Coalition’s guide to scaling up school and community partnerships. You can also learn more about how community schools are using ELO as one component of supporting their students and families here.
To learn more about community schools and ELO, visit www.communityschools.org/elo
The Wallace Foundation, which has sponsored this blog series, offers a library of free resources on expanded learning at www.wallacefoundation.org
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