Community Schools: A Solution During a Pandemic

May 15, 2020

In Little Rock, the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is partnering with Little Rock School District (LRSD) to make sure that the mental health needs of students traumatized by the COVID-19 crisis are met. The City of Little Rock, the Clinton Foundation, the Arkansas Foodbank and others have come together to provide over 250,000 meals to students who rely on schools for much of their daily nutrition. Without partnerships like these and many others, LRSD would have a difficult time supporting their families during this pandemic.

There are many other examples from across the country of school districts collaborating with local nonprofit organizations and other public institutions to better meet the challenges that many children and families face. In fact, “Community Schools”, the name given to those partnerships that have a formal structure to them, is a nationally recognized, research-based response shown to improve academic achievement. Community Schools strengthen the collaboration among government, nonprofits and other key agencies to meet challenging needs—pandemic-related or otherwise.

“Commitment to partnership is at the heart of the Community Schools model,” said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. “Students can thrive only when key community actors are brought together with a laser-like focus on asking one question: ‘What’s best for our students?’”

Both locally and nationally, partnerships that extend outside of the school walls are providing innovative opportunities. For example, in Michigan, Clarkston Community Schools students from the Team RUSH Robotics used 3D-printers to create 550 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) masks, face shield headbands and mask extenders for healthcare providers.

In Iowa, the West Des Moines Community School provides wellness support to staff, students and families through the Student Assistance and Employee Assistance Programs. Their local internet service provider is offering discounted home internet services at $10 per month for families with students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

We see similar approaches in ForwARd Arkansas Communities:

  1. Lee County School District is providing meals to roughly 200 people per day in partnership with the Arkansas Foodbank and has purchased 150 Wi-Fi packets enabling students to continue virtual learning.
  2. During just one week in April, Crossett School District (CSD) provided 26,000 meals through their partnership with Chartwells School Dining. In addition, CSD placed an order for 300 Chromebooks for students to complete Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) components.
  3. In Independence County, Crystal Johnson, President/CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, reports that community networks are partnering with local school districts to supply food, diapers and wipes to families, to arrange emergency dental care, and to provider essential child care for frontline healthcare employees. All of these things have been possible because of community members and leaders who care, school staff who continually strive to reach beyond ‘traditional’ learning and intermediary leadership from the Chamber.

For districts seeking to formalize local partnerships and extend the response beyond the crisis, federal funds provided through the CARES Act can be used to support the planning needed to implement formal Community Schools partnerships.  For example, districts can use the funding provisions of the CARES Act, the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) for:

  1. Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population
  2. Purchasing educational technology equipment
  3. Providing mental health services and supports
  4. Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs

Following are some helpful resources for additional information about Community Schools and this public health crisis:

  1. Coalition for Community Schools
  2. Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools
  3. Arkansas Department of Education 
  4. The Education Trust
  5. NWEA – “The COVID-19 Slide” white paper
  6. The Hill – “How 2020 might be the year of community schools”

ForwARd will continue to share updates, as well as highlight opportunities for the development and broad implementation of innovative and equitable solutions that will ultimately strengthen Arkansas’ educational system post-COVID-19.