The American Rescue Plan Act offers school and community leaders an unprecedented opportunity to reinvigorate our public schools as engines of equity and democracy.
The COVID pandemic and the violence against people of color have laid bare deep and pervasive injustice and inequity in American society. The inadequacies in our systems, including the nation’s schools, have been graphically exposed, creating a sense of urgency to marshal our resources for transformative change.
For educators, COVID has been daunting and exhausting. The pandemic has exacerbated inequities that always have crossed the school-house door. Hunger, poverty, violence, mental health challenges, inadequate housing, and more manifest themselves in our schools, leading to increased chronic absence and student mobility, while simultaneously decreasing student engagement and general well-being.
Every system, including public education, must face the destructive impact of racism in America. We must combat its pernicious effect on our nation’s students, families, schools, and communities. Together we have the responsibility to educate students to become active, caring citizens in a polarized and threatened democracy.
More than ever, transformation of our schools into engines of equity and democracy demands deep and sustained partnerships. Isolation means failure. Schools simply cannot successfully educate students if they do not reach out to community partners that bring needed skills and resources into this complicated—and opportunity-rich—environment.
Community schools have the following characteristics
- Integrated Student Supports address out-of-school barriers by providing health, mental health, and social services and by employing such practices as social-emotional learning, conflict resolution training, trauma-informed care, and restorative justice.
- Expanded and Enriched Learning Time and Opportunities, including after-school, weekend, and summer programs, provide additional individualized academic support, enrichment activities, and curricular opportunities that emphasize real-world learning and community problem solving.
- Active Family and Community Engagement brings parents and other community members into the school as partners with shared decision-making power in children’s education as well as in the expansion of adult educational opportunities.
- Community-based Learning connects school-day teaching and learning to the community. Using the tools of project-based and culturally relevant learning, a community school curriculum also engages neighborhood assets as a resource for education and community development.
- Collaborative Leadership and Practices build a culture of professional learning, collective trust, and shared responsibility using such strategies as site-based leadership/governance teams, teacher learning communities, and community school coordinators who manage the complex joint work of the school and its community partners.
Martin J. Blank, Founding Director, Coalition for Community Schools (1997-2017); Former President, Institute for Educational Leadership (2009-2017), firstname.lastname@example.org
Ira Harkavy, Founding Director, Netter Center, University of Pennsylvania; Chair, Coalition for Community Schools (1997-2012), email@example.com
Jane Quinn, Director, Children's Aid National Center for Community Schools (2000-2018), firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa R. Villarreal, Chair, Coalition for Community Schools (2012 - 2019), email@example.com
The authors are currently writing a book about community schools, which will be published in early 2022.