'Lessons Learned' Helps Provide Foundation for New Community School

By: Mary Helt Gavin, Evanston RoundTable
Published: March 23, 2016

School District 65 is poised to work with Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) to implement a second community school. The website communityschools.org defines a community school as "both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and school services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities." One of the best known community schools is the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City.

The Community School Initiative (CSI) at Chute Middle School is now in its fourth year. Lead partner Y.O.U. has developed partnerships with social service agencies to bring programs and services to the community school at Chute and to the one at Lincoln Junior High School in Skokie. These partners have helped students with health needs such as dental and vision care, provided food for families and helped families feel welcome and become more engaged in the life of the school.

The guiding principles for Y.O.U.’s community schools – the one at Chute and one at Lincoln Junior High in Skokie – are collective impact, shared ownership, local leadership, inclusivity and making schools into community hubs. There are five core operating roles: the schools and school leadership, the lead partner agency, the community school manager, the community school action team, and the partners and service providers.

Y.O.U. would like to expand the Community School Initiative to another District 65 School, and several representatives addressed the District 65 Board at its March 21 meeting. "We wanted to present an articulated Community Schools model and offer reflections and lessons learned, as we work on the implementation plan for a new school," said Y.O.U Executive Director Seth Green.

Y.O.U.’s model has been "plan, test, assess and adjust," said Erin Moore, Community School Manager at Chute.

Chute Principal Jim McHolland said 100 students received free on-site vision testing. Follow-up, also provided at no cost, often included fitting a student with a pair of glasses.

With the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Chute Community School developed a Healthy Kids Market, where families receive produce and groceries bi-weekly.

Mental health services are also provided. At present, mental health services at Chute are provided by the school clinicians – the social workers and the psychologist – as well as the clinicians that work in Y.O.U.’s after-school program. This school year, the need has become so great that there is a desire to increase services by bringing in additional partners, Ms. Moore told the RoundTable.

"The Community School Manager and social work staff at Chute have identified a need for additional mental health services for students. They are currently meeting with potential mental health partners to create an asset map outlining the options for bringing additional providers into the school to meet the needs of students. …Our plan is to launch our Community School Action Team this spring. That team will likely formalize mental health as a priority of our Community School work and create a plan for leveraging additional mental health resources for the school. The plan will likely be implemented in the 2016-17 school year," Ms. Moore said.

"These things couldn’t have happened without the Community Schools Manager," said Mr. McHolland. "This has been a tremendous opportunity and has made the Chute family that much stronger."

Parents on a Mission (P.O.M.) was formed at Chute by graduates of the parent leadership workshops. P.O.M. meets regularly and plans events aimed at increasing the sense of belonging and connection among families. The members also act as ambassadors for the community school.

Board members appeared enthusiastic about the community school at Chute and the possibility of expanding to another site.

Board Member Richard Rykhus said, "I’m really excited to hear about the focus on mental health. Middle school is such an important time for adolescent mental health."

Board Member Candance Chow said, "We talk a lot about capital. … We don’t talk as much about relationship capital and how valuable building a sense of belonging is to school districts ... and to our students. … We should galvanize our thoughts around that as we go forward."

Board President Tracy Quattrocki said she is very interested in the Healthy Kids Market. "How is it funded? How does it work?" she asked.

"We built it with the Greater Chicago Food Depository," Ms. Moore said. GCFD comes to Chute every week, and volunteers help distribute the fresh produce and other staples. "The feedback is that having a full-time Community Schools Manager on site makes it attractive to GCFD. There is no cost to the District or to Chute. The Community Schools Manager brings volunteers each week," she added. More than 40 volunteers have helped distribute 14,000 pounds of food to 178 Chute families.

"This is a great example of a shared mission," said Mr. Green.

While Y.O.U. says it will essentially follow the same model with its new community school, there are some lessons learned, said Ms. Moore and Mr. Green. A March 21 memo to the District 65 Board cited some of those lessons, which they feel will help them jump-start the second site. In most cases, Y.O.U. learned that doing certain things earlier – such as leveraging resources to make a solid infrastructure, engaging stakeholders in the community schools vision, and supporting parent leadership – would demonstrate the value of the program and attract family buy-in.

Y.O.U. will return at the April 11 School Board meeting to present its proposal for a new site for a community school, its proposal for financial resources, and an evaluation plan.

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