Education Minnesota pushes for schools that serve as community hubs

/ 3 December 2015 / Shawna
T.C. Vang filled in Michelle Vang on their health homework as they studied with other Upward Bound program students after school Wednesday at Brooklyn Center High School.

T.C. Vang filled in Michelle Vang on their health homework as they studied with other Upward Bound program students after school Wednesday at Brooklyn Center High School. — Jeff Wheeler

Life at schools in Brooklyn Center isn’t just about the students in classrooms. Instead, the district throws open its doors for the community, offering resource rooms for families, after-school youth programs and health care services.
This new way of looking at schools — as community hubs — is leading to higher graduation rates and fewer student absences, school officials say.

“The whole vision of community schools is that schools are open all day, every day,” said Patrice Howard, director of community schools and partnerships with the Brooklyn Center Community Schools.

A report released Thursday by teachers union Education Minnesota advocates that schools using these models in Minnesota and nationally are making strides in closing the achievement gap.

Brooklyn Center’s community engagement structure has been in place since 2009, and it is the state’s only districtwide model. The majority of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Still, more than 80 percent of middle- and high-schoolers participate in at least one after-school activity, the study said.

And it’s not just students who can take advantage of Brooklyn Center’s facilities. Parents can access a family resource room for help with food, clothing, housing and health care. They can use computers to write resumes and attend parenting classes.

The Legislature appropriated $500,000 over two years for full-service community schools pilot projects in the 2015 session, and Education Minnesota plans to push for more funding next session. The Department of Education will pick schools to receive money to further their full-service programs.

“The school becomes the hub for all things that the community needs,” said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht. “It’s a place for learning, but it’s also a place for a community to come and enjoy — but learn and get some resources and services.”

Two case studies

In 1998, parents and community members in Duluth saw that poverty was affecting students and looked for a solution. The Myers-Wilkins Community School Collaborative, formerly the Grant Community School Collaborative, started offering enrichment opportunities for students and families and partnered with community organizations.

Today, college-age tutors, summer theater camp volunteers and partners such as the YMCA, Men As Peacemakers and the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Fine Arts Academy help engage students and families. American Indian, Asian and Hispanic students at Myers-Wilkins made greater strides in their 2013-2014 math test scores than white students statewide, the study said.

The program focuses on elementary school, but Jennifer Eddy, the executive director of the collaborative, said she would love for it to grow into the higher grades.

Brooklyn Center’s growth in the six years since the school model was implemented is tangible: Graduation rates have jumped 13 percentage points from 2010 to 2014. The district’s percentage of students enrolling in a Minnesota college or university also has grown. Absences at secondary schools were cut by almost a third from the 2009 to the 2013-14 school year, the report said.

In Minneapolis, St. Paul

As a starting point, schools need to pay someone to coordinate this program, said Rich Rosivach, a teacher at Irondale High School who was an adviser on the Education Minnesota report.

The Minneapolis district is aware of the model, and one of its community partnership schools, Nellie Stone Johnson Community School, is teaming up with the Northside Achievement Zone for more community engagement, said spokesman Dirk Tedmon. The St. Paul Promise Neighborhood is designed to support children and families, and it offers services and classes at its family centers.

State Sen. Alice Johnson, DFL-Blaine, who sponsored the bill that allocated the money, said she thinks people may not be aware of full-service community schools. Providing the extra services is common sense, she said.

“The kids don’t have food, they don’t have medical, they don’t have transportation in order to participate in after-school events,” Johnson said. “This is what’s happening — that can and will happen.”

Beena Raghavendran • 612-673-4569