Community Schools Trending Nationally

students on a bus




As early as the 1900s, prominent citizens such as Jane Addams and John Dewey began advocating for a "community approach" to public education. Specifically, in his 1902 speech, "The School As Social Centre," Dewey argued that it would take nothing less than a full community response to adequately address the demands being placed on social systems. 

Just over 100 years later the realization that the "community school model" benefits not only students, but the community as a whole is once again gaining national momentum. According to a recent U.S News & World Report article, roughly 10,000 community schools currently operate nationally, representing between 6% to 8% of all the country's public schools.

Research shows that community schools have a wide range of positive impacts on students and throughout the community, from improving attendance, academic achievement, and graduation rates, to reducing disciplinary actions and increasing the physical and mental health of students and their families.

For over a decade, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and its partners have invested in the community school strategy locally, realizing that graduation from high school is a powerful predictor of future success for both the individual and the community where they live and that public schools are the ideal place to wrap our arms around our local communities to mobilize and support a robust network of people, partners, and resources to co-create opportunities for every person to belong and thrive. 


And the strategy has begun to produce tangible results. From January 2018 to January 2020, students at Asheville, Enka, Erwin, and Owen Middle Schools showed improvements in the areas of attendance, behavior, and core course grades (ABCs). There was a 9.5% increase in all students on track in all ABCs and there was a 15.1% increase in black, Hispanic, and multi-racial students on track for all ABC indicators.


Community Schools: A Day In The Life


Addressing Inequity

Community schools are also a potent strategy for addressing both the opportunity and achievement gap. According to the Learning Policy Institute, the promise of community schools is in how they prioritize the education and enrichment of vulnerable students and how they integrate services with systems of governance, professional support, and ongoing community-level dialogue. They work because they are designed to identify and address inequitable practices, disrupt the systems that perpetuate educational and economic disparities and increase opportunities for all through partnerships. Community schools provide students with integrated supports and enrich their academic skills in ways that fundamentally undermine entrenched inequities.

"Community schools are a strategy that helps us develop the practices and policies and systems that we need to address systemic inequities. How it does that is from the beginning it's built on the premise that we share the responsibility for our students' learning. For far too long, we have looked at our public schools to solve all the ills."

--Becky Pringle, President, National Education Association

Tying It All Together

In 2020, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County officially adopted the community school strategy as our central focus, employing it as the organizing framework for elevating student success, supporting families, and engaging communities throughout Buncombe County. This strategy is currently being implemented in seven schools: Asheville, Enka, Erwin, A.C. Reynolds, North Buncombe Middle Schools, and Asheville High/SILSA, and will continue to expand. Moving forward, we envision wrapping all of our work into the community school strategy.

In addition, this strategy serves as United Way's central contribution to the newly formed United for Youth Network, a multigenerational, cross-sector, cradle to career partnership built on the foundational principle that "Equity and Educational Excellence are Inseparable."

As we celebrate and recognize 100 years of community service, United Way, along with our partners, are committed to leading the fight for equity and striving to co-create communities where everyone has the resources, opportunities, and support they need to thrive. Join us!

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