community schools

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

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen FariƱa 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.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”