What is a Full-Service Community School?
March 1, 2017
Lincoln Park Middle School in Duluth Ensuring Student and Community Well-Being
By: Daniel Martinson, AmeriCorps VISTA serving with GradMinnesota
Countless factors outside of school can affect the in-school success of young people. From nutrition to summer opportunities for development to mental and physical health supports, many elements combine to determine the continued level of achievement of young people.
Full-service community schools address this by aiming to providing all-encompassing support, addressing themes both inside and outside of school that may act as barriers to the success of young people. With the public school as the epicenter, a community school brings together multiple partners to offer a range of support and opportunities to young people, their families, and the broader community. In addition to engaging instruction and preparing young people for college and/or career, community schools aim to include health and social support, early childhood development, and family and community engagement services to all. With initiatives that focus intimately on the uniqueness of a community, full-service community schools have the potential to make a huge impact on the well-being of an entire community, creating and ensuring equitable opportunity and support for young people of color, low socioeconomic status, and other underserved populations.
Near the end of 2015, the Minnesota Department of Education awarded a total of $250,000 to four school districts looking to implement full-service community school models1. Lincoln Park Middle School in Duluth was one of these schools. At Lincoln Park Middle School, 65.2% of enrolled students receive free or reduced price lunch in comparison to 43.9% district-wide and 25.3% at the other Duluth middle school. In the Duluth Public School District, students who receive free or reduced price lunch graduate from high school at a rate of 56.4% as compared to 77.5% for all students2. What’s more, large gaps in student achievement exist related to race, ability, and housing status. With the full-service community school model in full swing at Lincoln Park Middle School, multiple community partnerships thrive and are working to provide equitable opportunity for all students and to remove barriers to the full potential of young people.
“Shoot for the Stars” Summer School
Multiple studies have found that students who don’t participate in summer enrichment opportunities experience a regression in academic and social-emotional skills, losing traction during the summer months away from school. Research suggests young people who are from lower-income families participate at a disproportionately lower rate than their peers for multiple reasons including limited access, additional responsibilities, transportation issues, and more3. Ensuring equitable opportunity for summer enrichment programming is essential in the prevention of a deepening achievement gap.
In the summer of 2016, professors and faculty from the College of St. Scholastica facilitated the summer math and science summer camp “Shoot for the Stars” for Lincoln Park Middle School students. Faculty and students from the college along with Lincoln Park Middle School staff led students in engaging, hands-on activities in this supplemental educational enrichment program. The young people gained exposure to the possibility of post-secondary education through their interactions with the St. Scholastica students and staff, and the young people had a blast! One student was so excited by the program that they brought a friend along to share in the experience. The guest ended up enrolling in the program and participated for the remainder of the term.
Physical and Mental Health
Along with enriching academics, the community school addresses achievement gaps by offering a handful of health-related services. In partnership with Fond du Lac Human Services Division, Native American students are provided mental health services inside the Lincoln Park school. Additionally, through a partnership with Northwood Children’s Services, mental health day treatment is provided for 16 students. A local firm of professional counselors, Nystrom and Associates, also provides 2 full-time therapists on-site for school-based mental health services. Indeed, studies have found correlations between mental health and achievement among young students. For example, high depression scores are associated with decreased ability or desire to complete homework, concentrate, and attend class; low academic achievement; high anxiety related to school; and increased school suspensions4.
Made possible by an Action for Healthy Kids grant in collaboration with the Duluth Public Schools Child Nutrition department, St. Louis County Department of Public Health, and the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, the middle school provides a grab-and-go breakfast program to students ensuring that they have the time and means to eat a nutritious breakfast before school. Through this initiative, steps are taken to strengthen the healthy development of young people as they start their school day. In her article “Better Academic Performance – Is Nutrition the Missing Link?”, Chrissy Carroll (MPH, RD) asserts that eating breakfast has been shown to enhance academic performance by improving cognitive functions such as memory and neural efficiency. School breakfast programs have also been shown to improve attendance and reduce tardiness5.
Home Visits and Community Ties
Lincoln Park teachers are not only involved in great work inside the school, but also strive to leave the hill on which the school is located to visit families at their homes. The focus of these visits isn’t often related to the students’ academics or achievement; teachers work to build meaningful and genuine relationships with families in the community. It has been shown in numerous reports that children whose parents are involved with their schools do better academically, have fewer absences, are more willing to do their homework, have higher graduation rates, and feel more confident and competent about their abilities6. Home visits have the potential to put into perspective what a young person’s world is really like and how their home life directly affects their school life. These home visits strengthen ties between school and community, include families in the decision-making processes, deepen the level of informed support that can be provided to young people, and ensure the community school is addressing the unique and specific needs of the wider community.
All youth have strengths. How can we better support all young people to achieve their potential? The Full Service Community School model is one option that aims to provide equitable supports, addressing the multiple stressors that many young people face.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Why not integrate village and school to best support our young people?