It’s that time of year again. The birds are chirping. The grass is green. My allergies are flaring. And, I’ve put away my winter clothes. Spring is here, Rochester, and that means summer is right around the corner!
Ah, summer. That perfect time of year when we recharge our batteries, spend time with loved ones, stay up late (or wake up early if you’re not me), and take trips to the cabin or places unknown yet long awaited. My stress level decreases at just the thought of it all.
Not everyone, however, shares my outlook for summer. For many of our students, summer becomes a time of great uncertainty. What will I do today? Where will I go? Will I be alone? Will there be anything to eat?
Many students in our community look at summer as anything but the ‘perfect time of year’. Their summers are filled with babysitting siblings, looking for food, spending unstructured time alone or trying to find a place to escape the heat of their air condition-less homes or apartments.
This is not the summer I want for any student in our community.
For over five years, I have been researching, advocating for and working to implement the community schools model at three of our Rochester Public Schools sites: Gage Elementary, Riverside Central Elementary, and the Rochester Alternative Learning Center. The community school is a strategy for organizing school and community resources for student success. This strategy makes explicit that in order to significantly improve the academic and developmental outcomes of children, schools and community partners must work together to ensure that all students have an equitable opportunity to succeed in school.
There are seven principles that guide the community schools approach to school transformation. They are:
So, what does this look like at our three Rochester Community School sites?
It looks like community schools site facilitators placed at each site, housed within a family resource center and charged with being the connector for the site. The site facilitator connects families to engagement and volunteer opportunities, community partners to new and exciting (usually hands on) ways to address content standards, students to resources necessary for success (e.g. school supplies, a healthy snack, winter boots, a mentor) and staff to additional resources and professional development supports. But, that’s not all! Connections between all stakeholders continue to grow and flourish due to the support of the site facilitator.
It looks like community partners coming together to address students’ needs. The United Way of Olmsted County serves as our backbone partner; providing us human resources and greater outreach to the Rochester community. This year, we co-hosted our first Rochester Community Schools and United Way professional development training on Results Based Accountability. This two day training included RPS staff and partners from over 15 partner organizations. Moving forward, we are formalizing our partnership onboarding and accountability plans so that community schools sites and partners can deepen their focus in order to impact student achievement.
It looks like an environment where students are at the center. Students are supported by opportunities like powerful learning experiences, integrated health and social supports, and authentic family and community engagement. Collaborative practices like engaged stakeholders, shared ownership and decision making, data-driven planning and resource coordination make these opportunities successful. The results of this focus are college, career and civic-ready students, strong families, and a healthy community.
In the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) we are charged with “providing all children significant opportunity to receive fair, equitable and high-quality education to close educational achievement gaps.” I believe that the community schools strategy offers a framework to meet this challenge. Our three ‘hubs’ are continue to growth and develop as they respond to student need. If there is a barrier in the way of student success, diverse stakeholder teams are working together to address it. Students’ needs are being met and the entire community is pitching in.
So, back to summer. How will we be addressing the inequities that summer brings? We’ll be using our ‘hubs’ to open the buildings to students and families. Our resource rooms will have open hours. We will partner with the Rochester Public Library and Channel One to go into the community and read and do hands on learning activities with students and provide summer snack bags. We will have planned family engagement events. We will have planned professional development opportunities for staff and community partners. We will meet with community partners to continue partnership planning and development.
We will keep students at the center.
If you would like more information, please feel free to stop by one of our community school sites. They are always excited to share the work that they’re doing! Plus, the Coalition for Community Schools website is very informative.
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