A little over a year ago, Kearns Jr High was converted into a community school. But what does that mean? What makes a community school any different from the next school and what benefit does it have for the students and parents?
The National Coalition for Community Schools says it best: It is a “partnership between the school and other community resources.” Rather than just focusing on the student’s school performance, we are focused on the student as a whole: health, social services, community development, youth development, and community engagement. This not only helps the student improve in the classroom but also at home and the community at large. Rather than being a place to drop off their teen in the morning, and pick them up at 3 o’clock, the school becomes a community center open to parents and others in need of resources all day, every day.
The idea is that by bringing the parents into the school for resources they need, they will also be involved in their youth’s school performance. For example, we offer English as a Second Language because many of the parents have a language barrier. If they can learn English, they can also communicate better with the teachers and even help with their student’s homework.
Sandra, a parent who has been taking these classes for the past 6 months, recently talked to Big Buddha from Fox 13 when he came out to highlight the Community School.
“This program is helping me with my children, helping me with my English and my computer so I can help my kids with their homework,” she said.
Community School Benefits
Schools that have implemented this approach are seeing benefits across the nation. A study by the Coalition for Community Schools found:
- Community Schools help young people prepare for adult roles in the workplace and as citizens.
- Families and neighborhoods become safer, more supportive and more engaged.
- Parents and community members are involved with the school and their own life-long learning.
- Student’s have higher math and reading proficiency than at other schools.
- Students are absent less often and suspended less often.
- Parents who take ESL classes at community schools are more engaged in their children’s education.
Community Schools Come to Utah
The community schools idea is fairly new in Utah. In 2008 the United Way of Salt Lake decided to bring the concept of community schools to our state. They partnered with the Children’s Aid Society in New York City to start 6 community schools here. Kearns Junior High is one of those 6 chosen and the only junior high amongst the other five schools, which are all elementary age. Kearns Junior high was a natural fit because of the partnership the school aleady had with Youth Services. We were running a successful after school program and wanted to continue to partner with the school and community in other ways. The United Way community learning center grant provided the opportunity everyone needed.
We officially opened in the fall of 2009 with an open house and a clothing swap. Over 200 people came to see what the community learning center was all about.
Since that first event the community learning center and community school model has really grown at Kearns Junior High. Through a partnership with Education Equity we provide ESL, GED, and computer classes 4 days a week. We have monthly parent forums about timely topics parents are interested in. Every other month Utah Partners for Health comes to give free medical exams to people without insurance. We have an on-site Youth Services therapist who comes and helps students deal with mental health issues. The partnerships and opportunities at Kearns Junior high continue to grow every day. We are really trying to make Kearns Junior High a hub for the community.
We are excited about the progress we have made over the last year. We are currently in the process of branding and naming our efforts here.
The name we have chosen for the program is FOCUS. This stands for: Families and Our Communities Uniting for Student Success.
We hope this name will help the faculty, students, and community know who we are, what we stand for and that our main goal is to help students achieve and be successful.