Launched in 2014, the NYC Community Schools initiative addresses barriers to student achievement, and provides a strategic framework and intensive resources to 130 schools, most of which are in neighborhoods with very high rates of poverty, that serve more than 55,000 of the city’s neediest children.
The initiative is a central element of the city’s educational strategy, which seeks to improve student achievement and increase opportunities for students in these schools by combining stronger academics with stabilizing social services, including medical care, mental health counseling, and family supports. These services are developed and delivered through partnerships among principals, teachers, parents, and community-based organizations, and the approach leverages student wellness, readiness to learn, personalized instruction, and community and family engagement to produce better academic outcomes among high-needs students.
Community Schools recognize that students who are hungry, can’t see the blackboard, or are missing school regularly face critical obstacles to learning in the classroom. By providing an extra meal, connecting a parent to job training, or enrolling a student in an afterschool program, Community Schools can lower barriers to learning and help students succeed.
In New York City, the 130 Community Schools are overwhelmingly located in high-poverty neighborhoods, and as such the initiative attempts to address the inequities of resources and supports these communities struggle with. Though Community Schools are located throughout the five boroughs, they are concentrated in the South Bronx and North and Central Brooklyn, which are among the highest poverty districts in New York City. Nearly half of Community Schools receive more than 60% of their students from high-poverty neighborhoods. In comparison, just over 15% of other NYC schools have this same ratio of low-income students. Demographically, among the more than 55,000 Community Schools students, the population tends to be predominantly Black and Hispanic than at peer schools in the NYC system:
Simply put, Community Schools students, families and schools struggle significantly more with entrenched poverty and vulnerability to disruptions of many kinds. Homelessness, lack of access to consistent medical care, under- and unemployment, criminal justice system interactions, and a host of other issues are far more common among the Community Schools population.
The Community Schools initiative has a three-fold approach to providing required supports, with the ultimate goal of increasing school readiness and student achievement:
1. Strengthening schools themselves by lengthening the school day for increased academic engagement, and substantially expanding training and professional development for teachers and school leaders;
2. Supporting parents as advocates for their children and as co-leaders in the governance of the school itself, encouraging more contact between families and schools; and
3. Engaging Community Based Organization (CBO) partners to provide direct services in every school ranging from mental health services and athletics to accessing other social services (e.g. – domestic violence intervention services, or qualifying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families).
Each Community School is partnered with one of 46 CBOs, such as The Children’s Aid Society, Phipps Neighborhoods, Partnership with Children, Cypress Hills LDC, and Good Shepherd Services. These CBOs place a full-time Community School Director (CSD) on site, complemented by a full-time AmeriCorps member. The program is coordinated by the Office of Community Schools (OCS).
At a New York City Community School, the school, its partner CBO, and families work in partnership, sharing leadership and organizing resources so that academics, social services and other supports are integrated into the fabric of schools. These combined supports help the school better serve the needs of young people, resulting in improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.