August 02, 2022
Expansion of Community Schools model brings wraparound supports to more students
School Coordinators connect families with resources and community partners
For students to thrive, they need safe, supportive environments during the school day, at home and in their neighborhoods. Community Schools — which offer “wraparound” support to families like enhanced social services, after-school programs, and job placement assistance — are the model for providing equitable, high-quality education, especially to students who live in areas of concentrated poverty.
Thanks to funding from Bridge to Kirwan legislation and The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill, City Schools has expanded the number of Community Schools in the district, from 50 in the 2018-19 school year to 130 today. More students in more schools are benefitting from this holistic approach to education and family supports.
The idea behind the Community Schools model is to turn each school into a “community hub” where the comprehensive needs of students and families can be met in one place. This is accomplished by building a network of school staff, community organizations and volunteers that proactively engage students and families, assess their needs and connect them to services and supports.
So how does a school become a Community School? First, collaborating with either a lead agency or directly with City Schools, schools identify their community assets, needs and opportunities. Lead agencies for City Schools’ Community Schools include The University of Maryland School of Social Work, Y of Central Maryland, and Childfirst Authority — among other great organizations. Then, the school hires the Community School Coordinator (CSC), the person charged with transforming the school into a community hub. The CSC is a full-time staff person charged with supporting students and families and eliminating barriers to success.
“At the core, my role is to match the right resources to the right families,” says Heidi Stevens, CSC at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School. “Sometimes these are school-wide initiatives, like launching and managing the food bank and creating after-school programs. Other times, it’s about connecting an individual student or a student’s family with healthcare or helping them access a government assistance program. Teachers and principals want to do this work, but they don’t have enough hours in the day. As CSCs, we can take that responsibility and let them focus on their job.”
When the pandemic necessitated closing schools, CSCs did incredible work to ensure their students’ families had access to food, tech for distance learning and cleaning supplies. In fact, every single Community School in the district operated a food bank in their neighborhood. Read about how Tanier Webb, the 2021 City Schools Community Coordinator of the Year, was an integral part of her neighborhood pandemic response.
“There are so many resources in the community that schools can tap into, but it really takes the Community School model to make it happen,” says Amani Coker-Warren, Program Director of Community Schools & Out-of-School Time at Family League of Baltimore. “Once the work starts, momentum builds quickly. Parent volunteers get involved; neighborhood associations get involved — we’ve had the Ravens and Orioles partner with our Community Schools. But it’s only possible thanks to the work of the CSCs.”
As the next stage of the Community Schools implementation, City Schools, Family League of Baltimore and Maryland Out of School Time Network have partnered to launch a strategic planning process that will bring all stakeholders engaged in supporting the strategy together to create a “One Baltimore Community School” unified vision and goal.
By combining the expertise of all stakeholders, the new strategy will refine best practices, standardize reporting and ensure that every student in every community school can experience the benefits of this transformative approach to education.