community schools

Partner groups will help 45 ‘community schools’ transform into service hubs

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña with students at P.S. 15 in 2014.

Since taking over P.S. 15 in the Lower East Side four years ago, Principal Irene Sanchez has rounded up more than a dozen outside groups to offer her students everything from reading and music lessons to vision exams, swimming workshops, and sessions with therapy dogs.

All the extra help is vital for her students — almost all come from low-income families, and more than 40 percent live in homeless shelters or other temporary housing — but managing all those partnerships became a job in itself, Sanchez said. So when she learned this summer that her school was eligible to join a new city program that pairs high-needs schools with agencies that will help provide and coordinate all those services, she canceled her vacation plans in order to work on the application.

“It was that important to say, ‘We’re doing it, but we need help,’” said Sanchez. Such support, she added, will “free up teachers and administrators to do the job of educating students.”

P.S. 15 is among the 45 schools named by the city on Monday that will pair up with one of 25 different support groups, including the Children’s Aid Society, Good Shepherd Services, and Teachers College. The plan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced in June, is to develop new “community schools” that address students’ academic and personal needs by bringing in medical and dental services, mentoring and counseling, art and wellness classes, and other assistance for students and their families.

[See a map of the schools and their partners here.]

Each school will get a full-time coordinator to oversee the support programs, which will be provided by the partner agencies or other outside groups. The agencies will receive about $310,000 annually for each of their partner schools from a four-year, $52 million state grant meant to boost student attendance and reduce the number of dropouts.

Schools chose from roughly 60 vetted agencies, according to Sheena Wright, president of United Way of New York City, which is helping manage the program. Each school then interviewed about three agencies before making its selection, she said. Some of the agencies are partnering with multiple schools.

De Blasio’s schools-as-service-hubs plan follows a model that has been adopted by other cities and embraced by President Barack Obama and Governor Andrew Cuomo, not to mention many of the city’s education advocacy groups and the teachers union. The idea is not only to give students extra academic help, but also to attend to out-of-school issues like hunger, family instability, or health problems that can get in the way of learning.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that each of the 45 schools will set its own performance goals, which will focus on improved student attendance, parent involvement, and academic achievement. She cautioned that the the academic gains “won’t happen overnight,” but said progress in the other areas will eventually boost student performance.

“If you’re not in school,” she said during the announcement at P.S. 15, “you can’t learn.”

P.S. 15 Principal Irene Sanchez was so eager to sign up for the city's new "community schools" program she cancelled her summer vacation plans to work on the application.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
P.S. 15 Principal Irene Sanchez was so eager to sign up for the city’s new “community schools” program she cancelled her summer vacation plans to work on the application.

The partner groups are in the process of hiring the service coordinators for each school, who will work with faculty members and parents over the next few months to identify each school’s needs and create service-delivery plans. The plans are due by March, though some services might be offered before then.

The education department will send officials to visit the schools and will hire an outside evaluator to track their progress, Fariña said. But unlike the administration’s pre-kindergarten expansion, where each site is expected to offer similar experiences, each community school will be expected to arrange services specifically designed for its students and families, said Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.

“Every community school will look a little different,” he said.

Parents and school leaders at P.S. 15 chose to partner with Pathways to Leadership, a group that offers counseling, mentoring, and therapy in schools. P.S. 15 will also receive academic support from the city, since it is part of a new improvement program for low-performing schools. (Eleven of the 45 community schools are also in that school-improvement program, known as “school renewal.”)

Pathways to Leadership will help run an after-school program at P.S. 15 and bring in an on-site social worker and two interns, according to Kathleen Shamwell, the school’s new site coordinator. The school already reaches out to parents — it has previously bought a washer and dryer for them to use — but through its new partnership it might start to host adult classes or set up a “study hall” for parents to do their own homework while their children are supervised. Such services will ultimately benefit students, said Assistant Principal Laura Salmon.

“If their families are doing better,” she said, “they’re going to do better.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.