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Three Tips to Make the Most of Community School Funding
February 16, 2023
In a 1964 speech, Malcolm X noted that “education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” Nearly 60 years later, these words still ring true. But how do we help students prepare for their future? What can we do now to ensure every child is given their best chance to succeed in school?
Over the years, researchers, funders, and service providers have increasingly focused on the notion that a quality education requires an array of academic and non-academic supports. For example, if students can’t read the blackboard we need to find them glasses or contacts. If students are hungry, they won’t be able to concentrate on their work so we need to feed them. If students are experiencing or witnessing violence, they need someone to talk to (in addition to other types of supports). Whether the solution is a trip to the optometrist, a school breakfast program, or access to a licensed mental health professional, the school remains the ideal hub to identify needs and deliver integrated supports to students—with the community’s help.
Given that reality, a number of school-based approaches have been developed to bring community resources into schools to serve the whole child. The community schools model uses the school as a hub for educators, local community members, families, and students to work together to strengthen conditions for learning and healthy development. Current evidence supports this approach: a meta-analysis of 143 community school evaluations in 2017 indicated that bringing community resources into schools improves students’ attendance, behavior, social functioning, and academic achievement. On January 18, 2023, the Biden Administration announced that it doubled the size of the Full Service Community Schools Program to $150 million a year. The administration also released a toolkit of federal resources to support community schools. This is welcome news, considering we’ve seen a 40-percent increase in persistent sadness and hopelessness among young people over the 10 years leading up to the COVID pandemic, and these statistics have only gotten worse during the pandemic. So, as we look toward implementation of the Full Service Community Schools Program, how can we make the most of this opportunity?
Implementation matters. How something is done in practice is just as important as what is being done. It’s not enough to choose an evidence-based model for delivering supports: We need to monitor and evaluate the implementation of that model, as well as the adaptations that were made to address local contexts.
Cooperative decision making with district and school leadership input is key. The community schools model needs a cooperative decision-making process between school leaders, school staff, families, and communities to work well. These cooperative relationships have been associated with improvements in school climate. This approach also supports equity in communities that are underserved by including people with lived experience and lived expertise, who are in the best position to adapt services to local contexts, recognize challenges, and interpret evaluation findings.
Remember that community-based integrated student supports help support a range of outcomes beyond education. These whole-child models are embedded in larger efforts to support equity and social determinants of health. These supports can address health challenges, housing challenges, environmental challenges, social-emotional development, and larger family challenges. We need to help policymakers and funders recognize that educational outcomes resulting from integrated student supports in community schools approaches represents only the tip of the iceberg.
Abt Principal Associates Mr. Allan Porowski and Dr. Allison Dymnicki conduct evaluations of school-based approaches designed to promote the whole child.