Technology Transforms a School into a Community

Perspective
This may be the first time in history that the technology exists to make true community schooling a reality. Here’s what you need to know.
By: 
James Stoffer and Zach Vander Veen

Editor’s Note: This is part three of a five-part series. (Click to read part one and part two)

In part one of this article series, we made the case for community schools. In a nutshell, Community Schooling is a concept that has been around for more than 30 years. The concept has steadily been coalescing, gaining ground, and now represents some 5000 schools in the United States, out of more than 130,000 public and private schools, or just under four percent.

The pandemic, however, has created a sense of urgency to identify and enact solutions to challenges that have been laid bare by the effects of the COVID-19 experience. The extraordinary learning loss experienced by some children during the past 24 months of Coronavirus closings, remote and hybrid learning is aching to be addressed. Yet the weaknesses exposed in our teaching and learning systems cannot be corrected in an easy fix. Many were presented as educators hurriedly switched to remote learning without the necessary period of training, and others were longstanding needs that were exposed, due the ravages of the COVID-19 epidemic and protracted period of recovery.

Both children and whole families have been affected. Hardest hit were the low- and moderate-income families whose jobs did not translate well into work from home experiences. A wide variety of needs were presented, not only for the whole child, but for the whole family. The protracted time frame added urgency to the smoldering fire.

In part two of the article series, we discussed many states and districts, like California among them, who is proposing a community schools solution to not only alleviate challenges presented by the pandemic, but to “be an effective approach to mitigate the academic and social impacts of current events, improve school responsiveness to student and family needs, and to organize school and community resources to address barriers to learning.”

According to the California State Board of Education proposal agenda, “As a school improvement strategy, community school initiatives enable the local education agency (LEA) and school to work closely with educators, students, and families to understand and address the unique needs, assets, and aspirations of the school community. Community schools then design their own curricula and programs to support the whole child and partner with community-based organizations (CBO) and local government agencies to align community resources to realize a shared vision for success.”

California, like other states and districts, is proposing a seamless system that connects the resources of the school, teachers, administration, students, families, community agencies, the community business community and community faith communities.

A seamless system?

For this to take place, community schools will need to do something that has been, heretofore, mostly foreign to education institutions – they will need to utilize technology at its highest, most efficient and effective level. Think of an Amazon or an Uber taking this on as a pet project. In the same way that Amazon is not a retail company but a logistics company that sells retail products, schools will need to become logistics organizations that deliver education, health and wellbeing, and other necessary services to children and their families. It’s a different mindset, but one that is eminently feasible in today’s technologically connected world.

There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. An updated, and more accurate version of that saying would be, it takes a connected village to raise the whole child. One thing that the pandemic has shown us is that children easily fall into an ill-at-ease emotional state without the routines they have enjoyed in the past. And academics fall into a hazy nowhere land when the social and emotional needs of children are no longer met.

 

Your Need-to Knows for Your Community School

For a community school to run seamlessly, information is essential, and the data you will need at your fingertips to keep track of your program’s efficacy include:

What type of partner or program is performing best?

By figuring out which partner or program is getting the most sign-ups, the highest student engagement, or reaching other metrics of success for your school, you can make more informed decisions about what types of programs to invest more resources in. By viewing engagement, demand, and retention, you have the tools to address and assist lower-performing programs.

Which partners do we need more of?

Getting a top-level view of your programs is helpful to ensure that they’re aligned with your annual priorities. For instance, if you have a goal to improve social emotional learning and mental health for your students, you’ll need a way to check that you’re providing plenty of opportunities to do so through the connections offered with your community partnerships. By seeing a breakdown of the types of partners you’re working with and their distribution, you can rest assured that the resources you’re investing in these programs are getting you closer to your goals.

What can partners do to increase the success of students in their program?

Student engagement is tied to higher academic achievement, better workforce preparedness, and improved student success. By getting a comprehensive view of students that are participating in your programs, you can find factors that are driving engagement or uncover issues that might be barriers to engagement.

What can we do to increase family program engagement rates?

Family engagement is shown to have a positive impact on student achievement. It’s more important than ever to get families involved so students have the support systems they need to succeed.

Which programs lead to higher student success?

One of the major goals of community partnerships is to benefit students and help them develop the skills they need to be more successful both in and out of school. Being able to link community program involvement with higher student success rates allows you to better allocate resources and make a bigger impact in your students’ lives.

 

Connectivity is Key

In a Community School Policy Brief by Hayin Kimner, Policy Analysis for California Education, Kimner says, “An effective community school recognizes that student success does not rely solely on the expertise of instructional professionals but is also the result of shared accountability among students, educators, families, and community partners. Students and families are active and engaged participants in the decisions that affect their experiences. Teachers are seen as holding the closest and most consistent school-based connection to students, and are essential to designing, implementing, and evaluating the success of school processes, programs, and policies. Community partners—for example, afterschool program providers and student support services—are trusted as integral and formal partners who help ensure student success and share accountability for both successes and shortcomings.”

Kimner continues, “The purpose of community schools is first and foremost to support students’ academic success by offering ambitious instruction, a student-centered learning climate, and a comprehensive whole-child and “science of learning and development” design approach. Community schools have often been heralded for their work in expanding the school day and offering academic support and enrichment before and after school as part of “letting teachers teach.” Fundamentally, however, a transformative community school requires a reformulation and redesign of student-centered teaching and must also include support for the teachers and leaders charged with ensuring equitable student outcomes.

“These strategies are not born from COVID-19 necessity,” Kimner said. “They are examples of student-centered teaching and deeper learning. They reflect that people learn best when they feel known, understood, supported, and represented in what and how they are being taught. By building from the knowledge and assets of students and their families, community schools prioritize relationships and collaboration across a community to provide students with high-quality, nurturing, and equitable learning environments.”

 

In the next installment

In our next installment, we’ll look at the necessary connections: Children do not exist in a vacuum. Community schooling encourages student wellbeing, teacher health and wellbeing, all in place to allow academic achievement and opportunity for students, their families and their communities.

 

About the authors

James Stoffer is the Chief Executive Officer at Abre.io where he focuses on leading company growth, operations, and talent strategies. He has spent his entire career in the education industry, most recently at DreamBox Learning, successfully leading sales, customer experience, and business operations. Prior to DreamBox he also held leadership positions at Hobsons and MasteryConnect. His passion is helping scale social impact companies focused on improving the lives and futures of students and educators throughout the world. He has an MBA from Xavier University and BS in Marketing from Clemson University. 

Zach Vander Veen has worn many hats in education, including history teacher, technology coach, administrator, and director of technology. He loves learning, teaching, traveling and seeking adventures with his family. Currently, Zach is the co-founder and VP of Development and Customer Success at Abre.io, an education management platform.

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