It’s almost 6 pm at PS/IS 284, a community school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The saxophone-playing students have put away their instruments. The “Top Chef” class has finished distributing Dulce de Leche parfaits. The computers have been put away for the night. As families pick up their students from afterschool programs, school staff and community partners are still brainstorming ways to keep students motivated and engaged in learning over the summer.
Every student in New York City comes to school with different experiences, interests, challenges, learning styles, talents, and dreams. Our job as educators, social workers, and community school directors is to create schools that embrace our unique students and enable them to thrive; to find something they love about learning and to support them. This is the community school strategy.
The community school model expands the reach of the school. Through a partnership between a community-based organization and the school and driven by a shared vision for student success, community schools provide a unique combination of academic supports, health and social services, and youth development programs. In our 12 community schools, Partnership with Children provides the expanded mental health and behavioral supports that are core to our work in over 30 schools around the city. We are dedicated to student success – both socially and academically.
At each school, we focus on supporting students to consistently come to school on time and ready to learn. Our attendance improvement strategy depends on collaborative problem-solving and relationship-development with students. We make home visits and phone calls to update families on student progress. At PS/IS 284, Our Dean of Students bursts into classrooms wearing crazy hats with a parade of staff members behind him, cheering as he hands out attendance awards.
Recently, we called one 8th grader at PS/IS 284 to discuss her attendance, explaining that we are here to support her, and that we want her to succeed. Every day for the following week she came into the Partnership with Children room, saying “Look, I’m here!” She knows we care. Research shows that consistent, nurturing adult relationships are critical for developing resilience in young students. And community schools have been established to provide just that: a network of caring adults for our students.
Across our community schools, we are seeing improvements in attendance, student engagement and access to health services. We know the systemic challenges of poverty, trauma and violence faced by our students are real barriers to learning, but we continue to put sustainable strategies to ensure continued growth and learning.
At a recent community school meeting at PS/IS 284, an older alumna described her own experience as a child in Brownsville, sharing some of the negative choices that she made because it was hard for her to see a different path forward. Her story clarified our shared mission: we want students to see that they have the power to shape their own futures. The road ahead might be hard, but no student is alone in our community school.
Margaret Crotty is the executive director of Partnerships with Children and Alex Teitel is the community schools director at PS/IS 284 in Brooklyn.