Dude, where’s my community?

, Jocelyn Grecko, Leave a comment

Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center and The Center for American Progress have found a way to dip into education – they want to turn traditional schools into full service hubs, something they like to call “community schools.”

Since 2007, the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University (JGC) has been collaborating with a school district in California to research community schools’ student participation and outcomes.

But with many school choices throughout the nation, from state-run schools, to private academies, charter schools, and even home schools, where does the community school come into play?

Essentially, according to Sebastian Castrechini, a senior policy analyst for the JGC, community schools are those that align schools and community resources to “provide wraparound services that meet the social, physical, cognitive, and economic needs of both students and families.”

All things considered, what happened to traditional academic settings, family, and doctors offices? With a place like a community school, it certainly seems as though these familiar things aren’t needed.

Those who have joined the JGC and taken on initiatives that relate to the promotion of community schools have indicated success over the past four years.

According to Daniel Cardinali, President of Communities in Schools, over 250 programs and events have contributed to community schools. These programs include everything from after school activities, adult education, family engagement, and health services. Cardinali also serves on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational excellence Excellence for Hispanics.

In looking at these programs that comprise community schools, the JGC wanted to make sure they examined the data necessary in order to help these schools progress and eventually receive funding through public policy. Although the Center’s experts like Amy Gerstein, Executive Director, stressed the importance of data and research, the presentation given at Center for American Progress lacked just that – tangible results.

Cardinali and Gerstein explained that testing results for their case study school in Redwood City School District indicated that English-learning elementary students who utilized programs like family engagement had their test scores rise as a result of the program. Yet, they did not present enough evidence to support their claims.

Although community schools would like each student to achieve success, questions remain as to how exactly that occurs – and at what cost.

According to Gerstein, the JGC has a “youth data service” that allows them to look at youth records. She explained that their research is one dependent upon partners in the community, “We can only do this by trust,” she said. “We never release any findings until the partners sign off.” These records that Gerstein speaks of include everything from child welfare to mental health, to school administrator data.

Communities in Schools promises to be a “dropout prevention organization and a graduation promotion organization,” according to Cardinali. Yet, the path to keeping their promises remains unclear.

Cardinali said that 1.3 million students have been involved in the program in over 3,000 schools across the country. Although this may be the case, there doesn’t seem to a be a great deal of enthusiasm for the program as the group noted that funding and allocating money into state budgets has been difficult.

It would seem difficult to persuade one to think that funding should be allocated to services like healthcare, physical activities, and extra curricular activities – things that exist outside the classroom – in the community.

Jocelyn Grecko is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia. Jocelyn has spent the past four years in the nation’s capital as a Media Studies undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America. She will graduate in May 2012.

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