For her leadership in the areas of teacher quality and educational equity and reform, the Learning First Alliance has named Stanford professor and accomplished author Linda Darling-Hammond as our 2013 Education Visionary Award winner.
A Full-Service School Fulfills Its Promise
Story posted September 9, 2008, Updated August 29, 2011.
- 95% of 4th graders scored proficient or better through 2010
- In 2008, 70% of 4th graders scored proficient or better on the New York State's English language arts assessment (compared to 19% passing in 1999)
- In 2008, 94% of students are now medically insured (compared with less than 23% in 1999)
In the late 1990s, teachers and administrators here at Thomas Edison Elementary School in Port Chester, New York, could see that the struggles of neighborhood families were affecting students' safety and well-being. They were also contributing to low academic achievement.
Although Port Chester is surrounded by affluent areas of Westchester County, our community is far from wealthy. More than 80 percent of Thomas Edison's students receive free or reduced-price lunch, and nearly 50 percent are English language learners. The majority of our families are recent immigrants from Hispanic countries. They struggle to afford adequate housing, child care, nutrition, and health care. They also face the stresses that accompany immigration: worry about legal status, the difficult process of acculturation, language barriers, frequent moves and disrupted schooling, separation from family members, and school expectations very different from those in their home countries. These factors all contributed to low academic performance at Edison: in 1999, only 19 percent of Edison's 4th graders passed New York State's English language arts assessment, and only 75 percent passed the state mathematics assessment.
Divining Community Concerns
That year, Edison began the process of becoming a full-service community school. First, Edison faculty and community stakeholders sought a deeper understanding of the conditions that were influencing student learning. We conducted focus groups, individual interviews, and surveys in which we asked school practitioners, parents, students, and representatives of community-based organizations what concerns they had about Edison's students' lives and schooling.
Teachers' frustrations included the fact that parents sent children to school sick--expecting the school nurse to provide primary health care--and the difficulty of communication with parents. Parents, in turn, expressed needs for child care, help overcoming language barriers, and guidance on school involvement. Community groups recognized how often emotional and physical stresses were handicapping students.
We drew on these concerns to design a school where the school district and community-based organizations combined resources to meet students' needs. We created a community-school advisory board that represented key constituents and met once a month during our first year, planning and putting in place the community-school framework and developing goals and measurable objectives. We hired a community-school coordinator to help secure funds, coordinate partnership activities, and serve as a liaison between Edison and the partner agencies.
Partnerships in Action
Our School-Based Health Center
A review of the school's health records confirmed teachers' observations that many students were coming to school sick. We discovered that fewer than 23 percent of Edison students had health care coverage. The school shared these data with the Open Door Medical Center, an organization providing medical care to poor and underserved families in Port Chester, and initiated a partnership with them. Open Door secured federal grants and other funding to establish a school-based health center.
At the health center, the Edison school nurse and the Open Door nurse practitioner coordinate health care initiatives involving students and their families. The nurse practitioner provides primary care to students at the school. Common colds and other illnesses, which were previously often left untreated, now receive prompt medical attention, reducing the number of student absences. A weekly visit from Open Door's dentist provides much-needed dental care for Edison's students.
All Edison students can receive health care at the center, including screenings, vaccinations, and prescription medication. During these procedures, the staff has uncovered more serious illnesses, such as diabetes, which might have remained undetected until serious symptoms or complications appeared. We refer students needing more complex medical care to Open Door's main medical facility in the community. And in addition to providing medical services, Open Door staff members provide nutrition and wellness education to parents and help families obtain federally funded medical insurance.
As a result of the health center's services, 94 percent of Edison's students are now medically insured and receive ongoing medical and dental care. The success of this model has led the district and Open Door to expand this kind of program to other schools.
Therapy and Family Casework
To complement the work of teachers and health-center staff in addressing the developmental needs of the whole child, Edison set up a partnership with the Guidance Center, a local mental health facility. A bilingual family caseworker meets with families in crisis and helps parents realize their roles as their children's first teachers and primary advocates. The caseworker also supports the general parent population at the school, sometimes by facilitating communication between school staff and parents who do not speak English and by providing new families with school supplies and clothing, if needed. A social worker provides therapeutic counseling for students in crisis and teams up with the family caseworker to ease the stresses on students' families. These services help Edison establish links with the families that are hardest to reach.
Parent Education and Capacity Building
For the past six years, Edison has hosted the weekly bilingual gathering "La Segunda Taza de Café" ("A Second Cup of Coffee") for parents at the school, facilitated by the caseworker from the Guidance Center. At these gatherings, parents participate in workshops, seminars, and discussion groups about topics of interest to them. These topics include state standards and assessments, parents' rights and responsibilities in schools, strategies to help their children learn, and information on citizenship and naturalization. One goal behind this parent program is to develop parents' leadership capacity. Edison's immigrant parents are now visible in the school and active with the Parent Teacher Association.
Services, Education, and Resources of Westchester, a nonprofit organization, was instrumental in creating Edison's after-school program. This program now serves 130 students daily and meets the twin needs of homework help and child care that parents and teachers identified in our initial community survey. Through professional and nonprofessional staff members, including many bilingual workers, we both support students' growth in English and offer them enrichment experiences in their native languages--martial arts, photography, chess, tennis, computer-assisted instruction, and the opportunity to produce a literary magazine. We also strive to validate the rich Hispanic heritage of our students by bringing in artists to teach arts and crafts reflecting the culture and styles of indigenous Hispanic people. We also invite students to join a folk dancing troupe that performs frequently.
Partnership with Manhattanville College
Edison's long-standing professional development relationship with Manhattanville College is an important resource for improving teaching and learning. Edison hires many teachers trained at Manhattanville (30 percent of our teachers are alumni), which provides us with qualified teachers willing and prepared to work in a school confronting the conditions of poverty.
The majority of our new teachers from Manhattanville have participated in structured preservice learning experiences at Edison, ranging from facilitating small-group instruction to student teaching. All our new hires participate in a two-year induction program coordinated by the college liaison, with Edison teachers serving as mentors. This formal guidance has increased the school's retention of new teachers. In addition, veteran teachers continue to refine their practice by taking courses in English as a second language, literacy, and content-area instruction at the college for free or at reduced cost.
Ten Years of Whole Child Education
The changes we made in becoming a community school have led to dramatic achievement gains for our students. In 2008, 70 percent of Edison's 4th graders scored proficient or better on the New York State Assessment in English Language Arts, and 94 percent did so in mathematics. Seventy-five percent of our families now participate in schoolwide events. The New York State Education Department has recognized Thomas Edison for its innovative practices and achievement gains.
Through 10 years of growing into a full-service community school, Edison has had some insights. A key feature of our design is the fact that community-based partners provide services right on the school site and cultivate interagency cooperation. Reshaping ourselves as a community school has enabled our faculty to focus more on teaching and learning, has given families direct access to resources that improve their lives, and has expanded our partners' ability to reach children and families. We are now educating the whole child at Edison.
For additional information, please contact:
Chair of Curriculum and Instruction at Manhattanville College (Purchase, NY)
Adapted with permission from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
"A Full-Service School Fulfills its Promise," by Eileen Santiago, JoAnne Ferrera & Marty Blank. In the April 2008 issue of Educational Leadership, 65(7), p 44-47.
Copyright © 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Click here to access the original article as contained in ASCD's website.
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