Enhancing Service through Effective School-Community Collaboration

Practice Matters, June 2005

A publication of the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence

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by Elizabeth Mastro and Mary Grenz Jalloh

"We can never get into the schools."

"We hold trainings, but the schools never come."

"That group (community agency) came into one of my classes and the parents were very angry. I can't ever have them back again."

"They (community providers) always have trainings during testing week."

Whether voiced from providers in community agencies or members of the school community, these comments reflect the perception of resistance between schools and the communities within which they exist. Many community organizations are charged with serving school-aged youth, or providing educational programming for youth. During the hours of 8 AM to 3 PM, schools hold a captive youth audience. Recognizing that schools have 181 instructional days and community organizations often struggle with very limited resources, it is simply impossible for either entity alone to fully meet the social, emotional, physical and academic needs of youth. Schools alone cannot meet all needs, yet they stand as gatekeepers for access to youth during most of the day. School personnel, service providers, families and youth agree that it is a natural fit to combine the resources of both fronts to maximize efforts to promote youth development. This issue of PrACTice Matters outlines some of challenges to and strategies for collaboration and synergy between school and community groups to enhance positive youth outcomes.

There is growing evidence that successful collaboration between school and community groups has led to improved academic and social/emotional outcomes of youth. More and more, this connection is being acknowledged through funding mechanisms that require formal partnerships be developed, and programming be created based on the principles of youth development (for example, the United States Department of Education's 21st Community Learning Center Program). Research also shows that collaborative efforts have provided youth with richer, authentic learning experiences that have enhanced connections to school and are making an impact on reducing dropout rates and increasing attendance rates. So with all these great things happening, why is it still so difficult for successful collaboration to take place?

Challenges

As noted in the quotes above, schools are perceived (and sometimes rightly so) as strongly resistant to working outside of school building walls. Several factors have fueled this perception.

Overcoming challenges

Do these strategies actually work in the real world? Two examples of successful partnerships that have implemented the above strategies to overcome barriers are illustrated below.

The "Come On Back" program, based in Utica, New York, reconnects students with high absentee rates with their schools, working to improve attendance rates. The community group, Youth and Family Connections, partnered with the high school and working with principals and guidance counselors, developed an extended school day program. The program includes academic, career planning and recreational activities. Through collaborative efforts, the school provides teachers and counselors to assist with academic endeavors and Youth and Family Connections provides recreational space and connections to other community groups to enhance the opportunities available through the program. There is a clear understanding of responsibility, and regular meetings are held for on-going program review. Documented results demonstrate its early success. Of the participants, 86% improved their grade level scores in English, and 57% improved math scores. Not one student reported a decrease in scores. Teachers and students reported an improved connection to school for those students who participated, with 97% reporting improved behavior and improved attendance. This program has been highlighted at statewide education meetings, and has been the impetus for leveraging funding for other collaborative efforts to enhance positive youth development efforts for the Utica community.

City Heights Educational Collaborative: This partnership is comprised of the San Diego Unified School District (Elementary, Middle and High School), three community partners and a higher education partner. In order to ensure that all partners are equally committed and enthusiastic about working together to improve the poor achievement status of this district, they spent six months holding public information forums to inform parents, teachers, and other community groups as to what the collaborative hopes to achieve and the methodology to achieve it. This partnership also spends a significant amount of effort ensuring that the authority and governance structure is acceptable to all parties, including the collective bargaining agreement of the school. They have been able to organize a Policy Board and hire an Executive Director who interfaces with all partners in the collaborative, making sure they have input and feel valued. The work of this collaborative has also shown tremendous success in improving achievement scores: the elementary school target for annual improvement was 17 points - in actuality, they documented an improvement of 82 points. The community groups and businesses involved in the partnership have all expressed pride in being part of the collaborative, as well as a new excitement for the youth of the community. The school continues to recruit and retain teachers who are excited to be part of the collaborative.

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