Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Community Schools Taught Me

More than a year before I even applied to intern here at the Coalition for Community Schools, I had done some research about the community school model at a prior internship.  While scouring the Coalition’s website in 2013, I remember thinking: how could this model ever achieve success?  Now, on my last day of this incredible internship, I could speak for hours about the countless ways in which a community school leads to successful students, families and communities.  Over the course of this semester I have grown more passionate about community schools every day I come into this office; completely transformed from the skeptic I once was.  This internship has helped me to improve my written and oral communication skills, I have learned more about educational organizations, and I can now collaborate with others more effectively. Although those skills will be useful for me professionally, what I have truly gained cannot be condensed to fit on a resume.  I will walk out of the Coalition’s office today with a renewed attitude not only on education, but on the communities in which we all live, and how to make them better. 

On my very first day at the Coalition, we hit the ground running and I was on the phone with a California Community School Director by lunchtime, and at a Capitol Hill meeting that afternoon.  Even in that first day, I began to realize the depth of the impact this model has on the lives of those it serves.  By the end of my first week, I was not only convinced that community schools were a fantastic idea, but I had become intensely passionate about advocating for the cause.  By the end of my second week, I found myself compulsively talking about community schools to anyone who would listen.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  

Since then, I have been immersed in seemingly anything and everything community schools: from research about collaboration and quality to framing success of a community school in convincing ways.  I often find myself shocked that there was a time I doubted the effectiveness of a community school. How did I not realize that a child cannot achieve academic success if he or she is hungry, or struggling with problems at home?  How did I not realize that a school should be a hub for community activity, collaboration and learning?  How did I not realize that communities across the country, like the one I am from, can be absolutely transformed by community schools?  With this epiphany came a plan to focus my passion into action, while continuing to work on community schools once I leave Washington, D.C.

In January, when I return to St. Lawrence University to finish my junior year, I will be conducting an independent study about community school implementation and measures of success in two locations that could stand to benefit immensely from the model.  I chose two starkly contrasting places for this study, both of which are special to me: Schenectady, New York, my hometown, and Canton, New York, where St. Lawrence is located.  Schenectady is a much more metropolitan area that struggles with high poverty rates, while Canton is a rural small town in the poorest county in New York State.  The extreme difference in these two locations showcases how extraordinarily versatile the community schools model is.  No matter the location, demographic or population of a community, the holistic approach to learning that is community schools can be transformative for not only students, but their families and the places that they call home.  

These few short months I have spent at the Coalition for Community Schools have not only facilitated my shift from a skeptic to an advocate, but I now view change in a different light.  Creating change in one’s community obviously requires deliberate and diligent effort, but it is often overlooked as being too difficult to produce.  The Community Schools movement showcases exactly how possible creation of change can be.  Just as students work together to build towers of blocks or complete group projects, we as adults must first work together to ignite change in our communities and schools. In the years since building towers with classmates, I had forgotten the value of teamwork; that wooden block skyscraper would not have been as tall or wide without help from my friends.  Re-learning this vital lesson is directly linked to my work here at the Coalition, and for that: thank you community schools. 

By: Maya Williams
2014 Fall Intern

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