Launched on 2014, the New York City Department of Education's Community Schools represent a strategy to provide all students with equitable educational opportunities. Two-hundred and twenty-seven Community Schools serving 117,000 primarily low-income students and families are part of the initiative, aiming to address barriers to student achievement through intensive resources to select schools, most of which are located in high poverty neighborhoods.
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 adult education, or enrolling a student in an after-school program, Community Schools can lower barriers to learning and help students succeed.
The Office of Community Schools was established to support the social, emotional, physical, and academic needs of students. Through a coordinated approach, Community Schools seek to increase opportunities for young people through partnerships among principals, parents, teachers, and community-based organizations (CBOs). Together, these partners offer a "whole child, whole community" approach, looking holistically at students, families, and communities to ascertain their most pressing needs and provide tailored supports and services.
The Fund for Public Schools is proud to facilitate support to Community Schools through philanthropic, pro bono, and in-kind partnerships that promote the holistic development and well-being of students.
Among many challenges, Community Schools serve a disproportionate number of homeless students. Citywide, homeless students make up 8% of the DOE school population. In Community Schools, the average is 14%. For those twenty Community Schools with the highest rates of homeless students, the average is nearly 25%. Community Schools focus on targeted programmatic interventions - such as stemming chronic absenteeism - because they can provide deep structural supports through wraparound service providers on site.
STH CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM
To focus specifically on the chronic absenteeism of students in temporary housing (STH), grant funding from Deutsche Bank made it possible to hire a full-time team member to facilitate a comprehensive strategy including Success Mentors (which connect at-risk students to social services and supports, and provide coordinated case management). By focusing on the 20 schools with the highest rates of STH. Community Schools is learning valuable approaches that it can scale across the wider Community Schools portfolio.
The Fund also facilitated a partnership with Nike and State Bags to help increase attendance within Community Schools. A donation of $250,000 worth of product from Nike (sneakers and sweatshirts) and 1,000 backpacks from State Bags drove a competition amongst Community School students to achieve the highest attendance rates over a two-week period in December 2016. The Office of Community Schools identified eight schools as top performers and all received prizes to distribute to their students. Schools used this opportunity to motivate students, teachers, and families to help every student attend every day.
SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING
In fall 2016, the Wallace Foundation awarded DOE and a partner not-for-profit after-school service provider, ExpandedED Schools, a planning grant to build a system-wide social emotional learning (SEL) in school and in after-school settings. The planning process convened practitioners and policy-makers who crafted a vision and collaborative structure to advance high-quality SEL. Thanks to this support, much of the necessary foundation has been built, to continue planning efforts toward future implementation.
SPRINT 1 MILLION PROJECT
The Sprint 1 Million project will distribute 1 million wireless hotspots to low-income students nationally, providing internet access to students who would otherwise have limited ability to get online. Sprint hopes to help close the "homework gap" for students by supporting their online research, homework, and access to learning. In a partnership facilitated by The Fund between the DOE, Sprint, and the Sprint Foundation, the 1 Million Project provided devices for all 30,775 students attending 66 Community School high schools.
The Fund also partnered with the Community Schools, NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, and the NYC Center for Youth Employment on CareerCLUE, a credit- and stipend-bearing summer program for high school students attending Community Schools. The program includes service learning projects focused on industry specific curricula to increase students' academic skills and confidence. The summer 2017 program served 19 schools and nearly 400 students. Funders included The James and Judith K. Dimon Family Foundation and the Siegel Family Endowment, alongside support raised by the Mayor's Fund for New York City, managed by The Fund. The program will expand in 2018 to include fully stipended SYEP positions for all participating students.
ENRICHMENT IN SUNSET PARK
In addition to large-scale opportunities across many Community Schools. The Fund helps to facilitate individual school partnerships with private sector partners. To support enrichment activities at PS 503/PS 506 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Innisfree generously provided funding support and, also, hosted students for a holiday engagement event at their Union Square location.
Community Schools combine highly structured supports with the ability to reach some of the most vulnerable students in the NYC district. For this reason, they've been highly succesful at engaging scaled public private partnerships to drive both immediate student impact and larger systems change.