Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Community Schools: A Finger Nail History.


At the community schools x family engement conference earlier in June I spoke briefly on a panel with former colleagues, Jose Munoz, Lisa Villarreal, and Reuben Jacobson about the history of the movement. My goal was to put today's work into context. I decided to share a very brief summary with a wider audience. Here we go.

In the early years of our democracy, Americans built schools where they gathered, danced, voted, and sometime gambled.  As our nation matured in the 19th century, public schools became more formal institutions, with school boards and school superintendents leading the way, too often leaving the community behind.

Aspects of community schools emerged more extensively in the progressive era, with Jane Addams, bringing the settlement house into the school.  John Dewey built on Addams approach to create the concept of the as a social center where everyone would have the fullest opportunity for their development and is born of our entire democratic movement.

In the depression era, Elsie Clapp in rural West Virginia and Leonard Covello in East Harlem created schools with deep roots in the community focus on the school as a vehicle for community problem solving and preparing students for democratic citizenship. In neither case however were the partnerships in place that we now know are so essential to growing and sustaining community schools.

In the late 1940’s, Frank Manley and Charles Stewart Mott gained traction for the idea that schools are public institutions and should be open for public purposes and partnerships.  Their community schools thrust was adopted in a number of places. By the mid-1960’s however, that effort shifted away from the public school as the focal point for change through partnership and community engagement toward community and adult education programs. While many districts adopted community education programs, the catalytic role of the community school faded.

Also In the 1960’s Bill Milliken founded what is now Community In Schools (CIS) to bring the resources of the community into school. CIS now operates in many communities under the rubric of integrated student support, one of the pillars of community schools identified by the Learning Policy Institute research.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the seeds of the modern community schools movement were planted. The now Netter Center at the University of Pennsylvania helped organize the West Philadelphia Improvement Corporation that brought the assets of the university into local public schools and began the university assisted community schools effort. The Children's Aid Society closed a mental health center in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood and brought that program and multiple other assets into its first community school I.S. 218, now the Salome Urena Leadership Academy Around the same, New York City started Beacon schools an effort to bring community-based organizations into public schools to offer after school opportunities and reduce violence in the community. Researcher and advocate, Joy Dryfoos, wrote about Full Service Schools around the same time, further developing the idea.

All of those different efforts have become part of the broader community schools movement with hundreds of communities and thousands of schools building deep, intentional and sustaining partnerships to help their children thrive, strengthen their families and communities, and promote democratic citizenship. Following the leadership of local districts, parents and community partners, state and federal governments are stepping up their public advocacy investments in community schools.

People ask why the community school vision and strategy did not have wider salience and uptick in earlier years. There are several reasons. First there was insufficient emphasis on partnerships as the essential heartbeat of community schools. There was also no political strategy to mobilize a broad array of stakeholders to influence policy and promote the idea. And finally the work was too often not sufficiently closely connected to the core teaching and learning mission around public schools.

The modern community schools movement has sought to address these and other challenges. In the next blog I will discuss how and what we must continue to do.

In the meantime to learn more…

Community Schools in Action: Lessons from a Decade of Practice, Edited by Joy G. Dryfoos, Jane Quinn, and Carol Barking,

Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform. Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, and John Puckett.

Full-Service Schools: A Revolution in Health and Social Services for Children, Youth, and Families, Joy Dryfoos.

Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School: Education as if Citizenship Mattered by John L Puckett and Michael C Johanek.

The Enduring Appeal of Community Schools: Education Has Always Been a Community Endeavor, Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, Michael Johanek, and John Puckett.

The School as Social Center, John Dewey.

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