Community Achieves is making a difference in Nashville’s public schools. How are they doing it? Anne-Marie Farmer explains how their communities are helping students and their families.
The cost is small; the impact is large.
Metro Nashville Public School – Community Achieves
This post highlights an exciting and innovative program within Metro Schools (Nashville). Community Achieves is the district’s community schools initiative, and this promising effort is already making significant changes in the lives and school experiences of Nashville students.
A “community school” is one that offers needed resources and support for parents, students, and the surrounding community. We all know that factors outside the school building have a major impact on a student’s ability to succeed. While individual schools across the district have tried to offer these types of resources for some time, with varying levels of success, Metro Schools realized that with a framework of support from the district, such efforts could be replicated across the city, and the impact that such resources and support have on student learning could be assessed.
The key element of this program is that, as of July 2015, every school that participates in Community Achieves will have a designated, full-time staff person whose job focuses on assessing the needs of the school’s families and students, and harnessing community resources to fulfill those needs. Under Community Achieves, this work is no longer done by a teacher, principal, or counselor in whatever bits of time they can piece together during their regular work. Having one in–school coordinator fully dedicated to this work generates a much greater impact and is key to the success of Community Achieves. The services and supports offered to Community Achieves schools vary depending on the needs of the school, but some examples include the following:
- Extended learning time, which can take different forms. Whether it’s Saturday morning, evening classes and activities, summer programs, or before or after school opportunities, Community Achieves schools offer additional time for enrichment, remedial tutoring, and/or creative learning.
- Material resources, which can include an in-school food pantry, a weekend food backpack program where students take home food for their families, standard school attire closets, school supplies, and other basic needs.
- Extra educational opportunities for students and families, including ACT prep courses, English classes for parents, leadership training for parents, FAFSA nights to help parents complete financial aid forms for their child to receive college financial aid, and support groups and programs for pregnant and parent teen students.
- Other assistance, including voter registration, help with signing up for insurance, utility assistance, help with getting parents’ criminal records expunged (which means better employment opportunities for parents and more financial security for families).
- In addition to school-wide offerings, the coordinator can target specific student needs, such as procuring a pair of glasses for a student whose vision impedes his work at school.
The only cost to the district associated with Community Achieves are the salaries of the in-school coordinators and a central office employee whose jobs is to oversee and the program and monitor its effectiveness. The community resources accessed by the coordinator cost the district nothing, meaning that the positive impact on students and schools far outweigh the costs of this program. The fact that the coordinator is physically in the school and knows the students, teachers, parents, and surrounding community is critical to the program. It allows the coordinator to assess needs, direct resources, and pull in the right community partners to fit the school’s vision and school improvement plan.
What are the results so far from Community Achieves? While the program is fairly young and long-term results are not yet available, early evidence suggests the additional supports the program brings to a school community are having a significant impact. Student mobility rates (the rate of students changing schools during the year) at Community Achieves schools are down, suggesting that when parents receive these supports and resources, they are better able to keep their children consistently at one school. This has a direct, positive impact on student learning. Chronic absences are also down at Community Achieves schools, which is critical, as chronic absences make it nearly impossible for a student to succeed in school. Chronic absence can be caused by many factors, including health issues, responsibilities to care for younger siblings, and others. The Community Achieves coordinator is able to monitor patterns in absences and find the supports are needed to enable students to be in school regularly. The impact of Community Achieves on these and other school measures will be closely monitored by MNPS, allowing Community Achieves to tailor the resources it pulls into schools to be most effective, and also allowing community partners to refine their own programs to have the greatest impact on students.
Next year, Community Achieves will have coordinators in 20 schools, in 10 different high school clusters. This marks an expansion from last year’s 14 schools. The expansion of Community Achieves is part of the budget increase requested by Metro Schools. You can support this expansion, and future additional expansion of this important and innovative program, by contacting the members of the Metro Council and MNPS School Board and letting them know that you value this investment in bringing significant resources and opportunities to our students, their families, and our school communities.