What is a Community School
Community schools serve as hubs in their communities, providing valuable supports for students and families. They provide wrap-around services that help keep families healthy, communities safe and children supported in various ways.
Community schools are led by a community school director/coordinator. Their job is to forge connections with local groups and organizations and to align the services provided by the community school with the needs of area families and students.
While most often associated with urban districts, the community school model can and does work in suburban and rural areas. Each community school reflects the needs of the community it supports, so the model will look slightly different from district to district.
Out of 731 school districts in New York state, only about 296 utilize the community school model.
How Community Schools Work
Community schools collaborate with educators, families and community groups to bring much-needed services into school settings. There is no single model for community schools: Each school’s offerings will differ, depending on location and the needs of the community they serve. Below are some examples of community school service offerings.
Evening classes are available for parents and community members on topics such as ESL, literacy and personal finance.
Expanded professional learning opportunities keep educators informed and enriched.
Expanded mental health services are available not only for students but for any family members who may be in need or experiencing a crisis.
Vision & Hearing Supports
Students can’t learn if they can’t properly hear their teacher or see the board.
On-Site Dental Clinic
Several community schools operate on-site dental clinics to meet this crucial healthcare need.
Access to Local Health Care Providers
School nurses have relationships with and direct access to local doctors and specialists. Some even offer telehealth appointments with doctors during school hours.
Available for students and their families, food pantries can provide needed supplementary nutritional assistance.
Full availability of breakfast, lunch and, in some cases, dinner help keep students learning effectively
Some community schools host weekend farmers’ markets that bring vendors from the surrounding communities to provide fresh, nutritious food.
Washers and driers on site can help families in a pinch.
Clean clothes are available for children and adults.
Before- and after-school programs mean students have more access to a safe learning environment and gives parents more flexibility with work schedules.
Community School Director/Coordinator
A dedicated and specially trained staff member who works with parents, teachers, administrators and community members to develop and implement community school programs.
Educators and Administrators
The community school model involves all school faculty and staff contributing to the wrap-around service model but also provides them with enhanced community and peer support.
Families are a key part of the learning equation and are welcome to participate in school and community events and become active drivers of program development.
Health care providers, food suppliers, local businesses, police and emergency workers all have some integration with the operations of the school.
Why Union Involvement in Community School Initiatives
Unions have gotten involved in community schools because they are convinced that services, supports, and enrichment activities support educators inside the classroom, make the curriculum more relevant and engaging, and create conditions for learning that enable children to succeed. Educators and school staff are often best acquainted with students, families, and their needs. Union involvement gives educators a voice in the initiative. Educator input on the local community school shared leadership team is invaluable. In addition to forging strong partnerships, important decisions about scheduling, personnel, and instruction need to be made.
With the shared leadership structure of a community school, local unions get involved in community school initiatives in a myriad of ways. Union involvement ensures a culture and contracts that support community schools.
Union leaders and members often have existing relationships with noneducation allies. Union leaders and members often have access to and relationships with families, the community, community leaders, city leaders, other school district employees, public agencies, labor organizations, faith-based organizations, institutions of higher education and many other potential partners.
Union leaders and members can also advocate for local and statewide policies and funding in support of community schools.
- Educate union members on how they can become involved in planning and implementation.
- Form an internal task force.
- Train building reps and union leadership
- Organize resources to meet the needs of students, families, and school staff.
- Look at the partners you already have. Are they the right partners and are they being used strategically?
- Leverage labor-management relationship
- Curriculum planning and professional development
- Is your district eligible for Community School set-aside money?
- Can you partner with another district for a BOCES CoSer?
Hire a Community School coordinator to access existing services, seek grants and figure out ways to problem-solve.
- Educate community, members, and families
- Host conversations about “what,” “why,” and “how” of community schools.
- Utilize CBA or MOAs to introduce language to support community schools to ensure the community school coordinator position and the local community school shared leadership team are in place.
Apply For Federal Grants
The Full-Service Community Schools Grant program, offers $75 million in grants.
The Promise Neighborhoods federal grant program.
The Nita M.Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program.
The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA Act), has $54.3 billion in funding available to help districts prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 offers $122 billion in funds to support the safe return to in-person instruction and address the impact of lost instructional time through evidence-based interventions.
Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants are available to Title II schools for professional development to help educators better support students’ social emotional learning.
Title 1 schools can use part of their Title 1 funds to pay for community schools.