What are Community Schools?
Community Schools, developed in partnership between the City of Little Rock and the Little Rock School District, show Little Rock’s commitment to ensuring equitable support for our most vulnerable students and neighborhoods.
We recognize that each of Little Rock's neighborhoods and school communities has its own strengths and challenges. However, in many of our neighborhoods, these challenges often prevent students and families from reaching their full potential. The Community Schools seek to address these needs by creating a network where community members, school leaders, and families work together to develop supports and services that meet the needs of students and their families. Questionnaires and conversations with each school's families, staff, and community stakeholders help identify need areas and types of support programs that they would like to see. These programs could look like expanded after school care and social-emotional services for students, health and nutrition programs for students and families, job training for parents, and collaboration between community members to support these services.
To fund these programs, Community Schools typically use braided funding sources. District and federal funds provide funding for programming, and private donations provide support as well. Local nonprofits as well as national organizations often contribute funding for specific community school programming.
By providing students and families with the supports they need and want, Little Rock's Community Schools help to advance equity in neighborhoods that have historically been underserved. These schools become neighborhood hubs that support the community and ensure that students and families have the tools they need to be their best selves!
How do Community Schools work?
The Community School model has four key pillars. While each Community School looks different, all include the Four Pillars in their planning and programming. These pillars include integrated student supports, expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities, family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership. Community School Coordinators in each school serve as a bridge between school staff and the community and work to involve families and connect with community partners. Based on each school's needs assessment, the Community School Coordinator works to identify services that meet the unique needs of the students and families within the school.
Where are Little Rock's Community Schools Located?
There are currently four schools located in the southern, southeastern, and central portions of the city. Current schools include Chicot, Stephens, Washington, and Watson Elementary Schools. In coming years, we anticipate expanding the Community Schools program to include additional elementary and middle schools.
The current schools were chosen from key locations in some of Little Rock's most vulnerable neighborhoods. The schools in these neighborhoods were identified to have needs needs including food insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, large numbers of families whose first language is not English, and high rates of absenteeism among students. Across these schools, large numbers of students were not reading at grade level. Community Schools in these neighborhoods offer the services that students and families need and want, ensuring that students are able to come to school ready to learn!
What types of services do Community Schools offer?
Since each school and community has different needs, each Community School looks different. Support programs at each school are specifically tailored to the needs of the population it serves. Before each school adopts the Community School model, Little Rock's Community Schools team conducts a needs assessment via surveys and focus groups with families, school staff, and community members. This needs assessment helps to identify key priorities and need areas and guides the Community School team in identifying programming that will meet the needs of the school. Each school's Community School Coordinator works with school staff, district staff, and the city to identify and implement support programming specifically designed to meet the needs of students and families.
This year, many families and school staff across all four schools identified healthcare, internet and technology, food resources, and academic support as need areas. In response to these identified needs, the Community Schools team implemented programs targeted to each school's individual priorities. To address food needs, schools opened food pantries for families, held monthly community cafes and distributed food boxes, and planted school gardens in greenhouses. Some schools with particular healthcare needs opened school-based family healthcare clinics with primary care and behavioral health services. To meet the needs of students and families distance learning, schools distributed Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots. When students returned to in-person classes, schools began offering after school services and tutoring.
Who are the local partners?
Community schools are a community effort! The Little Rock School District and City of Little Rock have collaborated to support this project. In the pilot year, several local organizations joined to support families and communities. Some organizations are listed below.
To support food security efforts, Community Schools partnered with the Arkansas Food Bank to stock emergency food pantries and provide emergency food boxes. Americorps and the Full Circle Farmcorps assisted with implementing community gardens and greenhouses. The World Central Kitchen provided meals through monthly Community Cafe food trucks.
To support healthcare equity, Community Schools partnered with Arkansas Children's Hosptial to open school-based healthcare clinics. These clinics serve students and their families and connect families with primary care providers and wellness services.
To support academics, several organizations partnered to offer after school care and tutoring. AR Kids Read tutors worked individually with children both virtually and in-person to provide targeted academic support. Central Arkansas Library Services (CALS) provided support in a variety of areas including academic support, reading material donation, and more.
Throughout the course of the year, Community Schools were very fortunate to have support from a variety of other individuals and organizations. Any support, whether it is in the form of donations, hands-on support, feedback, or programming, is crucial in creating the strong community networks needed for Community Schools to be successful. We look forward to continuing to build and expand our partner and support networks in coming years!
If you have questions about Community Schools or are interested in forming partnerships, please reach out!
Dr. Jay Barth, Chief Education Officer, City of Little Rock- email@example.com
Darian Smith, Executive Director of Elementary Education, Little Rock School District- firstname.lastname@example.org
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