The AFT on Sept. 22 announced grants to fund community school initiatives in three states to address children's well-being and provide multiple pathways and diverse options to help them and their families succeed.
The AFT Innovation Fund grants—$135,000 for each initiative—will kick-start community school efforts in Texas; Daly City, Calif.; and Rome, N.Y.
The 2016 grants follow AFT Innovation Fund grants made in 2015 and renewed earlier this year involving career and technical education programs in Pittsburgh; Peoria, Ill.; Miami; and San Francisco.
"We're putting skin in the game to incubate and grow education strategies that give kids the supports and options that will help them succeed," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Effective community schooling and career-tech programs do that through powerful engagement and learning, addressing children's well-being beyond academics; strengthening educator capacity; and fostering collaborative efforts among teachers, principals, district officials, families, businesses, nonprofits and other community groups."
Community schools particularly help level the playing field and close opportunity gaps for disadvantaged children by providing needed programs and services to overcome the consequences of poverty, in addition to a broad academic curriculum. Each community school's partnership of educators, school leaders, parents and community groups decides what its students and families need. Community schools often have in-school health and dental clinics, social workers, guidance counselors, tutoring and other academic interventions, before- and after-school enrichment programs, safe places for recreational activities, job and food banks, laundry facilities, and literacy programs for adults.
The AFT Innovation Fund grants will go the AFT affiliates, which will work collaboratively with their school districts on the programs.
Texas AFT will hire a full-time statewide community schools coordinator to create and manage community school partnerships in various cities throughout the state. In particular, El Paso is hoping to open four community schools.
"This funding will help us organize a statewide network of community school practitioners working to ensure that public schools address kids' social, emotional and academic needs. Our state is overdue for a major shift away from test-and-punish accountability and toward neighborhood community schools that support children and families and bring together a broad set of partners and institutions that are needed to help all public school students in Texas excel academically," said Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro.
Jefferson Elementary Federation of Teachers and Jefferson Federation of Teachers (Daly City, Calif.):
The two affiliates will hire a full-time community schools organizer to create a corridor of three community schools in the two school districts and develop a blueprint for a districtwide effort. One of the features will be implementing restorative justice practices to deal with discipline at Pollicita Middle School and Jefferson High School.
"This funding for three community schools will seed ideas for a districtwide program, since we recognize how important it is to meet kids where they are and give them the services and programs they need to thrive. We're particularly excited about training staff at two schools in restorative justice practices, because these programs are effective in getting kids to work through disciplinary issues in a very honest way," said Melinda Dart and Sergio Robledo-Maderazo, presidents of the Jefferson Elementary Federation of Teachers and the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, respectively.
Rome (N.Y.) Teachers Association
A districtwide community schools coordinator will be hired, and Bellamy Elementary School will be the first school in the district to be transformed into a full-fledged community school with an integrated, project-based STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum.
"We are starting to build the momentum for a districtwide effort to transform our schools into community schools. I'm particularly excited about embedding STEAM programs in our community school design. When kids are taught and trained in subjects and fields that engage them and are marketable, Rome and its students win," said Rome Teachers Association teacher Joe Eurto.
The career and technical education programs using AFT Innovation Fund grants provided earlier this year are already underway.
The grant to the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers helped Westinghouse High School open an Emergency Response Technology academy with a three-year curriculum for fire, rescue and police training that will lead to certification and tie into postsecondary education opportunities. Also, Brashear High School has a new Multimedia Production and Coding academy.
The grant to the Peoria Federation of Teachers funded a searchable online platform (Career Cruising) connecting industry partners with students in schools for internships and other opportunities as well as a regional awareness campaign and placement supports for students.
In Miami, the United Teachers of Dade and the United Faculty of Miami Dade College are helping underserved high school students enrolled in CTE programs to earn industry certifications in digital media and jump over hurdles to gain college entry, including help with college entrance exams.
The United Educators of San Francisco is a key partner in a program offering a computer science skills curriculum for all middle school children, helping with everything from curriculum building to professional development for teachers to supports for schoolwide rollout.
[AFT press release]