CLOSING GAPS. OPENING DOORS.
We believe the best way to truly help high-need students and struggling schools is to address both educational improvements and social supports for students and families. That is why Forward Arkansas promotes the community school strategy.
Community schools follow an equity-based approach to educational challenges. This approach unites families, educators, medical professionals, and community and business leaders, leveraging schools as the hub to provide youth and their families with:
- High-quality education and enrichment
- Health care
- Social services
- Career support
Community schools connect community resources, organizations and businesses to the school to meet student needs and provide for enrichment out of school.
The academic and non-academic benefits associated with the community school strategy are widespread, well documented and compelling, including the findings summarized below. Read the full report: Community Schools as an Effective School Improvement Strategy, A Review of the Evidence
Community schools can help close achievement gaps for low-income families, students of color, ELL students and students with disabilities.
Young people who receive integrated support services provided by community schools show improved attendance, behavior, social functioning and academic achievement.
The meaningful family and community engagement found in community schools is associated with student reports of more positive school climates. Additionally, this can increase trust among students, parents and staff, which in turn has positive effects on student outcomes.
Comprehensive community school interventions have a positive impact, with programs in many different locations showing improvements that include high school graduation rates.
Batesville School District and the Little Rock School District are currently operating community schools in Arkansas. Most of our surrounding states have community school examples, including OK, TX, LA, MS, TN and KY.
Community schools are proven to have a positive impact on students and families in a wide variety of areas. But are they worth the financial investment? The short answer is a resounding YES. Not only do community schools pay off in improved student outcomes, they also generate economic benefits that extend throughout the community.
According to the Learning Policy Institute report, “existing cost-benefit research suggests an excellent return on investment of up to $15 in social value and economic benefits for every dollar spent on school-based wraparound services.”
Some states have set aside funding for community schools. Federal funds are commonly available for that and a school’s state ESA funds, currently and as proposed by DESE, will permit the use of those funds for community schools. Batesville is currently using Title I funds and Little Rock is using Title IV funds. In addition, the surge in federal relief funding can be used for community schools. Philanthropy is another resource for funding.
The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools is an initiative of Forward Arkansas to support the development and implementation of community schools in Arkansas. In the fall of 2020, our organization received a grant from the NEA Foundation to develop and pilot the community schools strategy in Arkansas through the ACCS initiative.
Forward Arkansas will continue to work through this grant – and hopefully others – to expand and scale the community school strategy throughout our state.
Community schools do not change a school’s governance, whether that is a school board or a charter management organization. Any school can be a community school.
SB291 – developed with research and support from Forward Arkansas – seeks to elevate community schools as an option and encourage the adoption of the community school strategy by more Arkansas schools with a high population of economically disadvantaged students. This move would provide more equitable support for disadvantaged students’ academic achievement and success in college and career.
The bill provides permissive language allowing, not requiring, the Division of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) to implement community schools in Level 5 of school support, as they determine.
Engage Arkansas and others are supporting the identification of community resources, yet it is beneficial to have a person on the ground in the community who can visit with students and their families to help them connect to resources, and to help the community connect with the school through partnership arrangements.
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