“This is a critical step in education reform and something for which we have been fighting,” said Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut. “Community schools are a large part of the solution needed to improve education for every child in Connecticut.”
While good teaching is crucial to student learning, there are factors in every child’s life that are beyond the teacher’s control and may deeply affect the child’s ability to perform well in school. In fact, decades of research have shown that out-of-school factors account for up to two-thirds of student achievement results. Sadly, there are more impediments to learning in the lives of poor children than there are in the lives of children from more advantaged circumstances. If we are to close the achievement gap, we must address the factors that impede learning.
The most effective solution is to provide services right in the school. Schools and districts can coordinate with local providers—medical providers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other nonprofits, for example—to provide services where students and families can readily access them.
“Supporting community schools as a strategy for school reform is common sense,” said Shital C. Shah, Assistant Director of Educational Issues for AFT. “Passage of this bill will send a message throughout the state that everyone has a role to play. If we organize all of the resources in the school districts and communities across the state to implement the community school strategy, our teachers and principals will have the optimal teaching conditions; our parents will become more engaged in the education of their children, and most importantly our students will succeed.”
Community schools typically are open beyond regular school hours to provide access to tutoring, homework assistance and recreational activities, as well as medical, dental and mental health services. Families and other community residents also may benefit from legal advice, immigration assistance, employment counseling, housing help and English-language or GED instruction, depending on needs. These services can alleviate family stresses that can interfere with children’s schooling.
Community schools have been supported by numerous AFT affiliates, including the successful programs in Hartford and Syracuse, N.Y., where Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit foundation, links students and their families to needed services. In Cincinnati, Community Learning Centers provide access to health and social services, as well as enrichment, tutoring and adult education programs. Among the benefits have been higher student test scores, and better attendance and parent involvement rates.
SB 1002 would require the local or regional board of education for each school district designated as an alliance district to identify two elementary schools and one high school located in the school district that will establish full service community schools beginning July 1, 2014. Priority will be given to elementary schools with existing family resource centers.