It seems strange on the heels of my blog about guns that I now want to talk about community schools. This may be a time when parents and school staff are thinking about locking out the community from our schools. But let’s talk about it…
Taking language from the Coalition for Community Schools, www.communityschools.org , the idea is to set up partnerships between the school and resources in the community. The theory is that when you integrate academics, health and social services, youth and community development along with community engagement you see improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. These improvements mean better chances for a good life for our youth and for the people around them.
So if a school has a high quality and integrated curriculum it should engage and motivate students to learn at high standards. Integrated in this sense means the school uses all of the community’s assets as resources for learning so students become involved in solving community problems. They get hands-on experiences in real life situations which tie to their academic subjects. What they learn makes more sense to them because it is relevant to their surroundings!
Many schools have a hard time running strong community engagement programs. It means volunteer recruitment, training and management which are areas of expertise by themselves. Hands On Asheville Buncombe is our local go-to source for such volunteer development. But most schools want stronger relationships between school and community. They want advocates who will speak out in support of the school, help with events and feel ownership of their neighborhood school. Community schools are a proven way to set up a structure to build that support. I also believe that if more community folks are part of a school’s work, then you have a larger group of people there to protect it and the students in it.
I’ll share some of the research on community schools in the future. In Buncombe County, Enka Middle School is developing its community school with United Way and YMCA. Emma Elementary School has been partnering for many years with Children First/Communities in Schools to offer a family resource center. So it isn’t a new idea – but one that could be expanded to strengthen communities all around us. And maybe make them safer in the process!