It Takes a CommunityMar 23rd, 2012 | By Jen Cowhy
Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA
Education reforms have recently emphasized educating the whole child. No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are prominent examples. This emphasis on the whole child recognizes that simply rethinking curricula misses something important: students and schools do not inhabit a world separate from families and communities. Understanding this has led to a movement towards community schools.
There are several interpretations of what a community school is. A weak interpretation is a school building that offers space to community agencies for the provision of social services to students and their families. According to Understanding Community Schools, a policy brief from UCLA’s Center for Mental Health in Schools, this community school model fails to serve students, families, and communities effectively. There are often redundancies in services, wasted resources, insufficient funding, and turf wars between providers.
The Center for Mental Health in Schools offers an alternative definition of a community school. It defines these schools as:
both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. They are centers of the community, open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends, coordinating the assets of schools and communities to more efficiently and effectively meet students’ needs.
The Center for Mental Health in Schools identifies a few critical components of successful community schools:
- Clear mission and vision for the integration of services
- Working relationships and partnerships between all stakeholders
- Consistent mapping and assessment of services and resources
- Clear understanding of local politics as personal barriers
- Clear roles and responsibilities among leadership
- Consistent and clear communication
- A multiple-locality approach that includes sharing resources across several neighboring schools to reduce the redundancy in services
There is more to a child’s education than what occurs in the classroom. In its stronger conception, the community schools model addresses some of the challenges to learning what children and their families face.