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More Than Just Math: Engaging Students in Community Schools


CREDIT: AP Images / Pool

Community schools—which engage students and parents in the learning process with community resources—produce better student outcomes, according to a new study.

The study [PDF] by the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University shows a positive correlation between school engagement in students—especially those learning English—and students’ own engagement.   

Researchers found English-learning students who participated for three or four years in family engagement programs scored 12 points higher on the California Language Development Test than students who did not participate. Other measurements of increased student achievement were linked to higher attendance rates and demographic assistance for students, such as bilingual tutoring for students enrolled in English as a Second Language.

During an event at Center for American Progress on the release of the study, officials noted that community schools focus on engaging students’ needs—social, physical, cognitive, and economic. By providing programs in family engagement, extended learning, and social support, as study co-author Sebastian Castrechini said, researchers see increases in academic motivation and academic confidence that is what leads us to “positive student outcomes.”

The most productive way to engage a student is by engaging the “whole student” and providing means to satisfy all their needs, not just their academic ones. Castrechini and other experts agreed that family engagement programs like parent-teacher associations or ESL classes for parents help students apply the benefits of doing well in school to the real world. This, in turn, increases a student’s motivation to learn confidently.

Dan Cardinali, president of Communities in Schools, Inc., the largest dropout prevention organization in the U.S., said during the event that Americans often look for the “silver bullet” for creating positive student outcomes—instead, education should adapt existing best practices to the unique situations of their school.

Lauren Fogarty, the director of Extended Learning Time at the Gardner Pilot Academy, a community school in Boston, agreed, adding that the key to successful community schools is a “culture of collaboration.”

In response to a question about how to make community schools more visible, Fogarty said educators must document the successes of these schools’ programs. The U.S. Department of Education supports community schools through its Full Service Community Schools Grant Program.

Jeff Raines is a journalism intern with Campus Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Raines.

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