Recently, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan jointly announced an expansion of “community schools” and other coordinated after-school activities as a way of creating safe havens for Chicago’s children.
Though community schools do provide safe environments for students beyond the regular school day, they provide so much more for students and their families, enabling kids to succeed at school and beyond, and strengthening communities.
Community schools happen when a school decides to reach out beyond its school walls and engage the local community in assessing student and family needs, then working together to meet these needs and achieve common goals. One common program strategy of community schools is an extended day, before and after school, one that is enriched with robust academic, arts, athletic, health and other engaging activities. This is not day care at the school. Rather, it is structured, supportive, engaging and enriching time that develops the whole child—academic, mental, physical and social.
Chicago’s community schools have had impressive results in their first few years. They have closed the achievement gap among students, raised standardized test scores, improved overall student behavior and increased student participation in the classroom. Grades have increased and children are healthier. Parents also have received invaluable training and resources at their children’s schools, through adult-centered programming.
When we combine the strengths of a community, its residents, its families and schools, great things happen! Safe havens are created, and while they are there, children are enriched so they can succeed at school and life. The time is now for the community school initiative to become not only a Chicago priority, but a statewide one as well. All Illinois children deserve this chance.
Suzanne Armato, executive director
Federation for Community Schools