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.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.