Community Schools put students’ needs front and center

Community schools are an outstanding model for public education in the 21st century because they put students’ needs front and center. These schools can include partnerships with health care and social service providers, mentors, and others who offer a range of services, from medical care and counseling for students, to job resources and emergency assistance for parents and others who live in the neighborhood.

Community Schools exist or are being developed in several communities throughout Wisconsin, including Madison, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Sun Prairie and Milwaukee. Recently the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured the impressive accomplishments of the Community School program at Auer Avenue School in Milwaukee. It is one of four schools involved in the Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership.

What defines a Community School?

  • No two community schools are exactly alike. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that treats all neighborhoods – and all students – the same, community schools are as unique as the children they serve.
  • Successful community schools are built on six pillars:
    • They provide a rich curriculum that includes culturally relevant, robust, and challenging course offerings.
    • They emphasize high-quality teaching instead of testing, including time for educators to collaborate.
    • They provide support services before, during, and after school.
    • They rely on extensive parent and community engagement.
    • They focus on positive discipline practices, resulting in fewer school suspensions and harsh punishments.
    • And they feature inclusive leadership and shared responsibility among the school principal, the Community School Coordinator, and a Community School Committee that includes parents, partners, school staff, youth, and other stakeholders.

The community school concept is not new; it actually dates to the turn of the 20th century when educators and philosophers such as John Dewey advocated a curriculum that was relevant to the lives of students. These educators argued that the school should be the center of neighborhood life and they wanted the building open and accessible well beyond the school day.

The concept fell in and out of favor over the passing decades. At some points, federal grants have supported the creation of community schools. But the emergence of No Child Left Behind put testing and top-down notions of reform in the driver’s seat.

With ESSA, educators – the ones who know students, parents, and neighborhoods best – have the opportunity to advocate for what we know works, and community schools should be at the top of our list.

Today’s community schools recognize that meeting our students’ needs inside the classroom means recognizing that the unmet needs they have outside the classroom affect their ability and desire to learn.

Read more:

Community Schools: As Unique as the Children They Serve – Lily’s Blackboard

Imagine a school that not only provides rich classes and challenging opportunities for students, but also builds the skills of parents who need help learning English or preparing for the GED. A school that has an inviting, cozy resource center where families who need clothing, emergency housing, or even immigration lawyers get help.

Imagine a School…

Each community school is unique, responsive to and reflective of the needs and aspirations of the students, families, and communities within its reach. However, the most successful of these schools are built on Six Pillars. Listed by @neatoday.

Community Schools

A Community School is at the center of the community – open all day, every day, to everyone – that brings together academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement under one roof, leading to improved learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.

Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership

The Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership (MCSP) is a collective strategy to transform schools into a place where students, families, staff, and the surrounding community can work together to ensure every student is successful. Community Schools is a proven model to increase a school’s capacity to better engage and align partnerships centered on the self-identified, real-time priorities of schools and communities.


Chris Larson Joins Kluge Elementary Kindergarten Class for “Read Across America”

Senator Chris Larson read "Happy Birthday to You! to a kindergarten class at Kluge Elementary on Tuesday (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Senator Chris Larson reads “Happy Birthday to You! to a kindergarten class at Kluge Elementary on Tuesday (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

State Senator Chris Larson joined kindergarteners this morning at Kluge Elementary School for this week’s national Read Across America, an initiative started by the National Education Association (NEA). Students enjoyed having a prominent community guest spend time with them reading from the Dr. Seuss classic, “Happy Birthday to You.”

Senator Larson is well known to MTEA members as a strong supporter of public schools, a co sponsor of legislation to build Community Schools and a fierce opponent of the Takeover of MPS. 

Community Schools Initiative helps students achieve

The Sun Prairie Community School Initiative is a partnership and collaboration between individuals and organizations to help students achieve and stay connected with the community. It provides a wide variety of services to students and their families, including after-school sports and other activities in a safe environment with adult supervision.

“Because of these activities, we’re seeing that the kids are more ready for school,” says Mary Ellen Havel-Lang, one of the group’s founding members. “They want to be at school. The attendance numbers have increased. Their progress has increased. We’re getting more parental involvement in the schools.”

One of the Initiative’s programs, Kids Achieve Together, pairs upper middle school and high school kids with elementary school students. Twice a week the older students provide tutoring and physical activities for the younger children.

“These were underachieving students. They met their peers achievement level, with that one-on-one tutoring, in math and they exceeded their peers in reading, because they had a relationship, in a safe environment, that helped them understand and learn those lessons.”

Programs also include mental health services and counseling for alcohol and drug abuse, plus programs aimed not at students, but at their families:

“Financial literacy, computer safety … our non-English speaking parents with help learning enough English to deal with the schools.”

Havel-Lang says the initiative is modeled on similar programs in other communities, and the grassroots organization currently receives no public funding. It was launched in 2010 over concern about the lack of activities for youth in the community, particularly in low-income areas. As a result, meals and nutrition play an important part in the group’s programs.

“We’re in a very actively growing community, and we have seen the increase in poverty in our community,” Havel-Lang says. “Having good nutrition and having food is a critical part of learning. Being hungry is not the situation you want to be in if you want to learn.”

Listen to interview with Mary Ellen Havel-Lang:

Read more:

Community Schools | Sun Prairie, WI – Official Website

‘We’re going to fight this, and we’re going to fight it hard.’


Nearly 400 concerned and committed parents, citizens, educators and supporters of public education came together in Milwaukee over the weekend for a Save Public Schools Community Strategy Session.

The group focused on the devastating impact Governor Walker’s proposed state budget would have on public schools throughout the state, as well as proposals to turn over some Milwaukee public schools to private entities.

“We’re going to fight this and we’re going to fight it hard,” said Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association Vice President Kim Schroeder.

State Representative Mandela Barnes said, “The governor’s proposal to lift the cap on vouchers will prove detrimental, not only to public schools in Milwaukee, but public schools across the entire state. It totally divorces the students it was meant to help, which is low income students, to help provide an alternative to them.”

Barnes announced he’s currently drafting a community schools bill.

“A community school is a school that addresses the needs of students individually who are facing the most severe issues, students that need assistance with mental health, physical health, poverty support, parental leadership supports,” he said.

The participants attended sessions that included vouchers for students with special needs, school safety and restorative practices, community schools, how to mobilize parents, how to organize students, using social media for outreach, bilingual education, and more.

The event at the Milwaukee Area Technical College campus was sponsored by AFT Local 212, MTEA, Parents for Public Schools, Schools and Communities United, and Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Video from WITI TV Milwaukee:

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Program shown to increase school engagement among Latino families

From the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

A new study identifies processes for improving the engagement of low-income Latino families with their children’s elementary schools. The researchers found the program was highly effective at creating social interactions that aid in the nurturing of trusting relationships between low-income minority families and schools.

The study focused on the effectiveness of the FAST program, an after-school program designed to strengthen relationships between families and schools.  Developed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in UW-Madison’s School of Education, FAST is used in 46 states and 13 countries. More than 75 percent of the parents in the study self-identified as Latino.

The researchers found the program was highly effective at creating social interactions that aid in the nurturing of trusting relationships between low-income minority families and schools, according to Megan N. Shoji and David E. Rangel, two of the authors of a paper on the topic recently published by Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

“Due to language or cultural barriers, Latino parents often feel uncomfortable in the school environment, especially when they are unsure whether the school views them as partners,” Shoji said. “When parents felt recognized, respected, and included by the school, as happens in the FAST program, they begin to feel a sense of belonging and engagement.”

For schools looking to replicate FAST’s success at building community, the researchers recommend that schools host engagement activities of interest to families, such as a free meal, a fun experience for children, or a workshop. They also recommended creating an environment that helps facilitate open communication, such as setting up chairs in pods or circles rather than rows, and ensuring ample interaction between school staff and parents.

“The more communal, where everyone is collectively engaged in conversations with each other, the better,” Shoji said.

Read more:

UW-Madison FAST Program Shown to Increase School Engagement among Latino Families