Tuesday, October 15, 2013

California Community Schools Bus Tour: “Is Slow Fast Enough?”


Community Schools -
Pathways to Partnership Bus Tour
Sponsored by Senator Liu
It’s no secret that the key principles that propel the community schools movement arose from an urgency to address the needs of millions of socioeconomically disadvantaged students with the most at stake but the least amount of supports. Disadvantaged children of all ages arrive to school each day with needs that stress the capacity of the traditional school construct. Many come to school hungry or sleep-deprived; others show up over-stressed from neglect or household chaos. And then there are those who don’t show up at all. The short and long-term ramifications of external student stressors can be disastrous to learning, motivation, and achievement outcomes.

But here’s the thing: community schools can neither erase achievement gaps nor the effects of social inequity. What they can do is restore a more humanistic approach to educating children that assesses the needs of the whole child – rather than reducing evaluation to outputs on a high-stakes summative assessment. Or, as Lua Masumi, Edison Middle School’s community school’s coordinator frames it: “It begins with honoring students’ needs.”

Today’s Pathways speakers each presented different variations of the community school model that attack the problem of inequity from different angles.
  • With support from Inner-City Struggle, Fremont High School, in South-Central L.A., accessed bond money to construct a 2,300 square-foot, school-based health and wellness center. Staffed with nurses and general practitioners, the center focuses on preventive care and serves both the school’s students and community members.
  • Madison Elementary has established a three-year work plan that promotes its global goal of eliminating the achievement gap by ensuring that all kids within its community have access to free Pre-K education.
  • The Social Justice Humanitas Learning Academy at Cesar Chavez High School is currently configuring a data index that assesses multiple measures of achievement while also evaluating a student’s wellness.

Each of these schools also places a robust emphasis on parent outreach; student empowerment; and engaging, rigorous, interdisciplinary curricula. And yet the final conversation of the day mainly focuses on the dearth of funding that continues to disproportionately harm high-needs schools. We have built palaces, fortified them with the most talented educators and leaders, and even improved test scores. As importantly, we have established calm and harmony where there once was turmoil. What these schools reveal is that, when held to fidelity, the community schools template works.

The gaps are narrower now, and yet they still persist. So will there be enough patience and political will to ensure that the community model fully succeeds? 

Brock Cohen, Small Schools Coach,
Los Angeles Education Partnership (LAEP)
This blog was written by Brock Cohen.
After 12 years of teaching English and Humanities in an urban public high school, Brock Cohen recently joined the Los Angeles Education Partnership’s (LAEP) Transform Schools staff as their Small Schools Coach. As Brock works to help LAEP build capacity among its network of partner schools, he is also pursuing a doctorate in K-12 Education Leadership at USC’s Rossier School of Education. 

Much of his current academic and professional pursuits have been informed by his experiences in working among an interdisciplinary learning community that has had marked success in elevating achievement among students who often struggle with motivational and learning challenges. As a student-practitioner he has learned that we must work to transform schools into learning and wellness hubs that engage families, support teachers, and stimulate high levels of cognition among all student populations. 

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