Teaching Partnerships in Community Schools

Community schools are the kind of public schools that families want and children need: coordinated, inclusive, comprehensive, adaptive, responsive, and above all else, equitable. Cincinnati’s Community Schools are called “Community Learning Centers” and this six-film series from MediaSutra and the Partnership for the Future of Learning takes a deep dive into how these schools are working!

Drama and ELA teacher, Katie Fleihman, uses her past experiences and struggles as a student to help her students overcome their own challenges. She explains her approach to the curriculum: “In order to expand the curriculum and change up our basic idea of what a stereotypical classroom looks like, you need to bring outside pieces of the world in, and then the kids can see how the skill you’re focusing on translates into the real world.” This type of enriched learning is a key pillar of a holistic approach to Community Schools (called Community Learning Centers in Ohio).

Community Learning Center Institute’s neighborhood network of partners brought in Cincinnati’s first poet laureate, Pauletta Hansel, to forge connections with students around writing as a way to explore their identities and interests. For years, she has been facilitating students to write together about who they are, their families, and where they live through metaphors, images, and descriptions. Students like James Sweet and Lizziey Fahey, who once disliked poetry have become poets themselves, or have branched into other forms of written expression after finding their passion through working with her. These Community Learning Center partnerships not only create the conditions necessary for learning, but they can also provide opportunities for engaging experiential learning by connecting community experts from a variety of areas with the classroom.

Tweet: At Oyler School, one of Cincinnati’s #CommunitySchools, poet laureate Pauletta Hansel teaches students how to write as a way of exploring their identities and forging a path to college. Watch the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XktgIpCMS9c

Watch the whole series of films:

More Information about Community Schools:

Listen to the 60 min recording of a deep dive into Cincinnati’s Community Learning Centers and the filmmaking process with Jenni Kotting, Communications Director, Partnership for the Future of Learning and National Public Education Support Fund (moderator); Anna Maier, Researcher, Learning Policy Institute; Manauvaskar Kublall, Filmmaker, MediaSutra; and Adelyn Hall, Director of Housing and Neighborhood Development for the Community Learning Center Institute.

Public education is a vital institution—the most effective and equitable way to prepare generations of youth to live well and participate in our evolving democracy and economy. All students should have access to a public education that reflects their community, that empowers them, and that offers the resources they need to fulfill their potential. To get there, we need all of our schools and systems to not simply improve, but look to the past and build on what works, and look ahead to update what doesn’t.

Use the Community Schools Playbook

A prime example of how this can happen and is happening can be found in “community schools.” They’re public schools that partner with families, community organizations, and local agencies to support the full development and growth of young people using evidence-based, tried and true practices. And because each community school is a reflection of local needs, assets, and priorities, no two are exactly alike.

The most comprehensive ones are full academic and social centers, where generations come together to receive health treatment, participate in sports and music, learn a new language, or prepare for a GED or a citizenship exam. For that reason, they’re not just a good isolated “education” idea; they’re a coordinated way to activate each community’s unique assets and culture. They restore the promise of education and of democracy. Community schools provide each and every student with the resources, opportunities, and support that make academic success possible and that create strong ties among families, students, schools, and community.

Community schools are the kind of public schools that families want and children need: coordinated, inclusive, comprehensive, adaptive, responsive, and above all else, equitable. 

There are so many stories about community schools that are changing how people perceive what public schools can be. We’re sharing a series of four films showing how this has happened in Cincinnati ever since 2001, when Cincinnati passed a school board policy to turn all of their schools into community schools, called Community Learning Centers. By 2006, nine schools had hired site coordinators, done needs assessments with the local communities, and brought partners into the schools. Today, all of their schools are community schools. Research from 2006-2015 shows a move to community schools resulted in significant improvements. The achievement gap between Black and white students was reduced from 14.5% to 4.5%.

More recently, Cincinnati Public Schools released data showing that 98% of 3rd graders passed the 3rd grade reading guarantee and 3rd grade literacy has increased 20 percentage points in the last three years. Additionally, graduation rates have increased almost 7 percentage points over the last four years to 77.9% in 2018. 

Student enrollment has increased by 6.018 new students since 2012-13 school year, a 20% increase in enrollment without a corresponding jump in birth rates or overall population. More families with children are moving into the district and staying. Neighborhoods are successfully advocating for new schools to be built so that they can send their children to Cincinnati Public Schools. 

Cincinnati shows that in an era of tight resources, community schools are a good investment. Many of the additional services provided already exist elsewhere, but they are not able to be easily accessed by community members. When school and community resources are organized around student success, they are more efficient and effective at boosting educational outcomes and often don’t use additional resources.

Out of approximately 98,000 public schools in the U.S., over 5,000 are community schools. That number is likely to grow in the coming years as community school efforts move forward in California, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico, and New York in school districts and in legislation.

More resources:

  • The Community Schools Playbook is a first-of-its kind policy and implementation guide for educators, policymakers, and community groups looking to advance this evidence-based strategy.
  • Report from Learning Policy Institute and National Education Policy Center synthesizes findings from 143 studies and finds that, when implemented well, Community Schools can help students overcome challenges.
  • Recent book by editors Reuben Jacobson & JoAnne Ferrara providing inside looks at Community Schools.
  • Podcast on Community Schools: Kyle Serrette, Senior Policy Analyst at NEA, talks community schools—what they are, how they work, and how they’re helping students across the country succeed.
  • “Education should be used to give young people the tools to do what they want in life.” – Interview with Karen Ikegami about Community Schools.
  • Explore the characteristics, history, and benefits of Community Schools in this NEPC podcast with Greg Smith and Jeannie Oakes.
  • Learn about the benefits of Community Schools from the American Federation of Teachers.
  • Do you have questions about Community Schools? The Coalition for Community Schools has answers. Check out their FAQ page for all the details.
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