Community Schools

Community Schools

Recognizing the fact that students come to school with many diverse needs, community schools bring a variety of essential services onto campuses with the goal of providing a comprehensive set of supports — often including health services — to children and families. According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources.(1) Community schools are centers of the community, and they keep their doors open longer hours, including evenings, weekends, and during vacations. Please see this policy brief on how community schools address poverty and offer the supports students need to succeed in school.

Students Need A Wide Variety of Supports

To succeed, students need high-quality instructional experiences and a positive school climate. Many students,  particularly low-income students, require additional supports — supports that extend beyond the traditional responsibilities of schools and districts. In fact, recent research has identified six “out of school” factors that significantly impact the learning of children living in poverty: low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children; inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; food insecurity; environmental pollutants; family relations and family stress; and neighborhood characteristics.(2)

Given students’ diverse needs, effective instruction must be paired with effective learning supports. These may include nutritious meals and safe places to play, high-quality health and behavioral health care, opportunities to develop autonomy and leadership skills, case management and other families services, and more. Without community schools to provide these supports, many students, particularly low-income students, are less likely to reach their potential.

Community Schools Provide Essential, Responsive Supports

Community schools are responsive to the needs and wishes of students, families, and staff, and they focus on bringing the most important community resources and services to those who need them most. As a result, no two community schools are identical. In addition, community schools evolve, starting by addressing high-priority needs and growing their offerings over time. That said, school health services and school-based health centers (SBHCs) are often among the first developed components of a community school. School health services and SBHCs meet pressing health needs, provide prevention and early intervention services, and help students get ready to learn.

Because of their integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement, community schools improve student learning while also building stronger families and healthier communities. A growing research base, using data from schools across the country, shows that community schools improve student behavior, attendance, and graduation rates, parent involvement, and ultimately academic achievement.(3)

Resources for Practice

For tools that will help you start and run a community school, see Community Schools Resources.

(1) Coalition for Community Schools. What is a Community School?
(2) Berliner, D.C. (2009). Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.
(3) Coalition for Community Schools. Top Community Schools Research.