|Blog Series - Innovations in |
Expanded Learning Opportunities:
The Community Schools Strategy
See also: Other Blogs in the ELO Blog Series
Community Engagement and Grant Specialist,
Ogden School District
Thanks to a strong network of community school partners, all youth in Ogden, Utah, will have plenty of expanded learning opportunities to choose from this summer.
Until three years ago, however, there were very few opportunities for enriching summer experiences for Ogden’s 12,500 youth. The Ogden City School District, which includes 22 schools, only offered an academic program for students who qualified for the Migrant Education Program, a couple of academic-based camps for the GEAR UP students, and a YMCA adolescent camp at Mound Fort Junior High. Other community-based programs existed and served a limited number of children, but we all worked in silos. Collectively, summer programs served less than 5% of all of Ogden’s youth.
Creating “Ogden United”: Organizing to Support our Community
This all changed as we began to scale up the community school strategy. Inspired by the progress of the district’s 2008 Full Service Community Schools federal grant at Mound Fort Junior High, we created Ogden United in 2010 to improve opportunities for children and families. We decided to expand the number of community schools, our chosen vehicle for transforming schools across the district. Ogden United is led by a cross-boundary leadership team composed of decision makers including Ogden’s mayor, superintendent, Full Service Community Schools leadership team at the school district, local college and university presidents, the United Way, the chamber of commerce, the Utah Department of Workforce Services, and prominent parent and community groups.
The United Way of Northern Utah (UWNU) is the intermediary for Ogden United. The UWNU links community schools with our U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grant (click here for a new national report on the link between community schools, Promise Neighborhoods, and other place-based initiatives), and seeks funding and resources through its Capital Campaign. UWNU believes strongly that by making our schools the hub of our neighborhoods, we can provide a continuum of solutions to facilitate college-and career-ready students. The UWNU provides facilitators and meeting space for our planning meetings and have published a Summer Kids Catalog.
A Focus on Summer
Ogden United had been exploring the benefits of developing a systemic approach to community schools, looking at summer as one possible area of work. We were struck by the fact that students who scored poorly at the end of the school year on our state assessments typically didn’t receive support until the following school year – 3 months later! The problem with summer went beyond academic learning loss – children were also losing opportunities for youth development and to pursue their interests.
There were two reasons for the overall lack of youth participating in summer learning and enrichment opportunities:
- First, partners were working in narrow silos with smaller groups of kids, and although we often competed for space and dollars, none of us were serving at our capacity, and
- Second, our city’s youth and their parents weren’t even aware of the few programs that were being offered.
Mobilizing our Partners (Spring 2012)
As part of the planning process for scaling up community schools, partners had already started talking about a common set of results, and had developed a track record of working together. Consequently, they were prepared when called upon to create additional summer opportunities to help our students achieve. We knew that together we could make a significant impact by focusing on academic and enriching summer opportunities.
The Full Service Community School’s Leadership Team at the Ogden City School District started to build a comprehensive summer experience by reaching out to community groups. We facilitated meetings with local youth-serving organizations —the YMCA, United Way of Northern Utah, Boys and Girls Club, Youth Impact, Ogden City Recreation, Ogden School Foundation, and Weber State University’s Education Access and Outreach Department—to discuss summer learning loss and effective summer programs.
We also needed to educate our community about the importance of summer enrichment and learning in order to enroll as many youth as possible. As we planned for a “new kind of summer” in Ogden, we included our parents and youth through focus groups and surveys. We solicited parent and community volunteers to help organize, market, and even teach at the camps. One parent, Dr. Margit Lister, who represents the parent group SEEd (Striving for Excellence in Education) co-chaired the “Summer Slide” committee, under Ogden United, with me for the past two years. Not only has she delivered the hundreds of Ogden babies we are now trying to support, she also is a mother of two elementary boys whose closest summer programs were located 45 minutes away at the University of Utah.
What Types of Opportunities have we Created?
By leveraging existing and new financial and organizational resources, school and community partners have created myriad new summer opportunities for Ogden’s youth.
Community schools staff worked closely with our district Title I summer program to pilot full day programs in multiple schools. The morning focuses on academics. Although instruction looks slightly different in each school, students come together and spend the morning from 8 am to 11:30 am focusing on individualized learning (using Odysseyware, a program paid for with Title I and School Improvement Grants funds) as well as academic enrichment opportunities provided by the community school staff and partners (e.g., movie-making, Microsoft PowerPoint, and prevention education). Our federal Full Service Community Schools and state Gang Prevention and Intervention grants help pay for staff who also support the morning’s academic components.
After lunch, Kindergarten-9th grade students can choose to go home or stay to participate in YouthCreate or a recreation camp from one of our community school partners such as the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club. “YouthCreate” is an example of a new summer camp in two of our schools that provide both academic and enrichment opportunities that were hard to find previously. We fund the program through a Weber County Recreation, Art, Museums, and Parks (RAMP) program grant. The Ogden School Foundation, a community school partner whose mission is to provide enrichment opportunities for Ogden’s students, is the fiscal agent and contributes additional funding toward the project.
Together, we set a goal to increase the number of youth served from 120 to 150 (25%) for summer 2012. In addition to art, the Ogden School Foundation and Own Your Future, a district-led gang prevention program, are sponsoring robotics and computer technology activities. The district contributes the space from the three schools, staff who oversee the entire RAMP project, and Own Your Future staff who provide on-site supervision and recruitment. But the school district couldn’t do this without our partners. The YMCA and Ogden City Recreation register the youth, order the t-shirts, and provide additional staffing support; local non-profit Nurture the Creative Mind and Weber State provide artists-in-residence; and, United Way helps with ordering the supplies and sponsors marketing.
YouthCreate is but one example of the additional opportunities available for Ogden’s youth and their families (See examples in box below).
In 2012, the first year of the RAMP project, we served an additional 172 unduplicated students – surpassing our goal of 150! And we did it despite unexpected staff changes, a slow start, delays in getting grants, and challenges in securing artists. We have learned from the challenges we faced and set a new goal of serving at least 200 youth for summer 2013. Summer enrollment has just begun and over 200 youth have already been enrolled, and the numbers are growing.
What are we doing differently this summer? We started planning earlier, expanded our partnerships, and have a strategic marketing plan. We have gained a lot of traction across Ogden; artists are now calling us to be involved; a company has donated craft supplies; parents are asking for brochures well in advance because they want their kids involved, and youth are being registered.
The enrollment numbers for the full day summer programs this year have increased significantly. The morning summer schools are at capacity (over 600 enrolled), as are our YMCA (over 200 enrolled) and Boys and Girls Clubs (150 enrolled) programs. Another 230 youth are enrolled in programs with other partners.
We have been able to continuously surpass our goals because of the unified and collaborative approach to our work.
For the past two years, Ogden United has collaborated with our local newspaper, The Standard Examiner, to publish a 50-page booklet on opportunities for youth and families during the summer. This booklet goes out in the Sunday newspaper in early May, taken home from school by every elementary student, and distributed by all community partners. We’ve gone from limited opportunities to a 50-page booklet filled with enriching and engaging opportunities that are accessible to all of our city’s youth! The booklet works like a community schools ‘smart phone app’, a centralized place for a list of all summer opportunities that has become an invaluable resource for all of our students and families.
“Collective impact” is the best phrase that I can use to describe the work here in Ogden. It is a powerful tool that can be used to build great things that will have a lasting effect in our neighborhoods. It is more than working together – it is breaking through silos and crossing boundaries to do what is needed for our families. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Other opportunities offered by Ogden United include (Summer 2012):
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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