10 August 2008

Plugging in the Community

I ran across an article in Education Week that made me think, at first, that this was going to be another "blame the adults" scenario. While I am all for teachers being responsible for creating a healthy learning environment, I also believe that it is up to students to choose to engage. With the advent of NCLB, teachers and schools are having to take on too much of the "blame" for low student achievement. I admit they're a key piece---and we know that teacher quality is the strongest influence in the classroom---but they are not the only factors in a child's life.

What I ended up liking about Reversing Reluctance in Education Week is that it showcases a program that holds the community accountable---not just the schools. Supporting students is every adult's responsibility as part of the Communities in Schools program. They appear to be getting some good results from their efforts:
While fewer than half of all low-income and minority students in the United States complete high school, 85 percent of CIS students do, and two-thirds of them go on to some form of postsecondary education. In Georgia, the birthplace of the CIS “performance learning center” model, more than 75 percent of center students who were classified as seniors in the fall of 2006 graduated in 2007. Nearly all of them had either dropped out or were on their way to dropping out before joining the program.
The program has two major components. The first is a focus on relationships between families and school. This includes everyone in the school, not just the teachers. Secondly, these relationships are leveraged to help students "discover" the "I cans...": (1) I can learn; (2) I can have a reason to learn; (3) I can control the learning process; and (4) I can help others learn.

Community is the difference-maker. As CIS co-founder Bill Milliken writes in his book The Last Dropout, this is really an adult problem. It represents the failure of adults to, as he puts it, “provide and model a community that acts as a safety net for young people.” Communities own schools, but frequently forget, ignore, or abdicate their responsibilities to children for most of the day and year. Kids are in school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for 180 days a year. But they are in their homes and communities from 3 p.m. until 8 a.m. during school time—and 24/7 for the remainder of the year. In fact, from birth to the age of 18, children spend more than 90 percent of their lives outside the schools.

Our group has learned how to bring together the people, agencies, and organizations within the community that can support schools by doing the things that schools themselves cannot, particularly connecting to those students whose academic success and social well-being are threatened. We’ve had success linking external supports to the schools and aligning them to support the schools’ responsibility for attendance, grades, and graduation. These include domestic-violence interventions, job training and placement, dental care, mental- and physical-health care, child care, parent education, and more.

When we listen to the stories of students who dropped out, struggled in school, or became overage and undercredited nonachievers, we are often struck by these young people’s creativity and intelligence. Many have survived challenges in their lives, within their families, and on the streets that would have crippled their peers headed to Ivy League schools.

Their failure is at least as much a failure of school systems and communities as it is their own. We need new forms of schooling that teach key academic content in ways that engage these students and prepare them for successful futures, and we need to help them build strong relationships with adult mentors who will support their efforts to stay in school and succeed. And we need to link schools and communities in mutually beneficial, two-way relationships that provide young people with a healthy preparation for a productive future.

Schools have too much on their plates these days. Most of the mandates have their heart in the right place (student achievement), but don't have the necessary funding and support pieces to help schools make this a reality. We're going to have to reach out more to the community. I hope it will reach back.


ms-teacher said...

Last year, I had a student who really wasn't trying very hard to be successful in the classroom. However, his mom was in almost weekly contact with his teachers. This is definitely a student that would not have been successful were it not for his mom and his teachers working together. He was also involved in a sports program that demanded C's or better. Without a lot of outside forces, I can unequivocally say that this kid probably would not have passed my class.

That is not to say that I don't have kids who come from very bad situations who are still successful. There is something internal in these kids who push for success despite what's going on at home. Unfortunately, these types of kids are not the norm.

As a classroom teacher, I can try to motivate my kids to reach their potential, but if the value of education is not embraced at home, it's kind of hard for me to make a dent unless the student sees the value themselves.

The Science Goddess said...

I definitely agree with that. What I like about this CIS approach is that it really does make it clear that community (as well as teachers/schools) are responsible for students' education.

If 90% of a child's time (until age 18) is spent outside of school, then those outside adults (not just parents) need to step up, too.