Last year, when Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer introduced landmark legislation to provide funding for full-service community schools, he became part of a nationwide movement aimed at making children’s school days longer, more numerous, and filled with services once provided solely through other industries. In making his case, Hoyer said, “Full-service community schools are valuable resources in local communities because they provide for the seamless integration of academic, developmental, family, and health services to children and their families. These schools, in addition to strengthening local communities, ensure the best use of resources, which will result in more cost-efficient services.”
Hoyer’s goals are shared by an increasingly wide range of educators, parents, and politicians. Although those on opposite sides of the aisle propose different methods for achieving those goals, one thing is certain: whether the funding comes from government, churches, or private industry, more and more communities are turning toward full-service schools to meet their children’s needs.
Of course, the idea that school has always been a six-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week enterprise is only partly true. Ever since World War II mobilized hundreds of thousands of women into so-called war work, government and industry have sought to provide services to fill the gaps they left behind, offering school-based breakfast and dinner programs for children of working mothers as well as other assistance not previously considered part of a school’s mission. But today’s movement for full-service schools is a quantum leap forward from what was seen in the 1940s.Today’s community schools offer kids and their families everything from parenting classes to preschools to afterschool skill-building workshops to on-site mental health services. And, among their leading practitioners are several graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose innovative full-service programs are making a difference in their communities.
The Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston’s Dorchester section is one such program. Founded in 2001, the Codman is an Outward Bound Expeditionary Learning school, a concept that grew out of the well-known wilderness program to promote similar values and principles—teamwork, exploration, service, character development—in schools. In addition to its focus on hands-on learning, the Codman exemplifies the spirit of full-service community schooling, even going so far as to include students’ parents in both the school’s leadership and its classrooms.
“One of our Saturday classes is taught at UMass Boston,” explains Meg Campbell, C.A.S.’97, the Codman’s founder and head. “It’s a sequence of courses on the African Diaspora. Professor Robert Johnson taught it last year, and it was his idea to open it to the parents. I wasn’t sure anyone would sign up for it, but four parents signed up and did all the work.”
Having parents in the classroom had unexpected benefits as well, Campbell points out. “When they did the study tour to Jamaica for a week in the summer, the eight students and four parents went—so they didn’t need any chaperones!”
The reference to a Saturday class wasn’t a typo, by the way. The Codman holds classes Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, and Saturday from 9 am to noon. The schedule, Campbell says, not only provides time for students to learn the basic skills that some of them were lacking when they arrived, it also helps “create a culture that’s purposeful and academic and emphasizes character values.” Students spend so much time at the school that it tends to become the center of their social life. Campbell notes,“Their social life entirely shifts to the school.And yet, because our school is so small, there’s a very strong family feel to the school.”
But the nurturing, family-like atmosphere, down to rocking chairs and even teddy bears in the classrooms, doesn’t mean that the Codman could ever be accused of babying its students—far from it. In letters they write to the next year’s incoming class, current ninth grade students caution against complacency and procrastination, warning the new kids, “If you do your work, you’ll be fine. If you don’t do your work, they’ll be on your back.”
In addition to intense academic challenges—kids undertake hands-on “learning expeditions” and participate in a mandatory mock United Nations—the Codman provides comprehensive health and social services. Taking advantage of its site within the Codman Square Health Center, the school employs an on-site social worker to help kids weather the inevitable adolescent storms as well as work through the challenges some have already faced in their young lives. Students also participate in single-sex “talking circles,” a kind of peer-driven support group.
The student body’s physical health concerns Campbell as well. She has banned fast food from the school and has encouraged kids to learn about nutrition through one of the school’s Saturday classes called “You’re Hired,” a satiric take on Donald Trump’s catch phrase from The Apprentice. In this contest, the winning team is the one that creates the best meal for a family of four using balanced nutritional ideals and the federal food stamp guidelines.Winners, as decided by blindfolded judges who taste their final offerings, get $50 in cash—a sure-fire motivator of teens everywhere.
Finding the motivations of teens and pre-teens is also on the minds of Ned Rimer, Ed.M.’98, and Eric Schwarz, Ed.M.’97, cofounders of the Boston-based Citizen Schools, a nationwide afterschool program. The middle school students who participate in Citizen Schools undertake apprenticeships, in which they’re taught by “citizens,” who are volunteers from the community. These hands-on exercises help the kids tackle real-world problems—from analyzing the marketing strategy of a Dorchester flower shop to revamping bedrooms in a Tucson-area homeless shelter—thus helping to transform curiosity into mastery.
By setting high standards for the kids in the program, Rimer says,“we’ve raised the bar for what’s possible… [The students are] actually creating things of real value to their community. They’re being respected; they’re becoming young heroes in their community for their work, and that’s really unusual for kids that age.”
Afterschool programs fall into the full-service or communityschool philosophies as a matter of course. All the better if they’re sited within the actual school buildings, as the Citizen Schools are. Explains Rimer: “We decided very early on to be in schools. Part of the reason is that this real estate is owned by the city and vacant in the afternoon. Middle schools in Boston get out at 1:30 in the afternoon—they start at 7:30, but they’re vacant for a long time.”
The hours that kids are out of school are ripe for learning— or for getting into trouble (one well-known statistic cites the hours between 2 pm and 6 pm as dangerous hours for unattended children and adolescents). As Schwarz notes, “Kids are out of school for 80 percent of their waking hours; even with an extended-day charter school they’re out for 70 percent of their waking hours.” So it doesn’t make sense, he explains, to charge schools alone with the job of educating the nation’s young people. “One of the big ideas behind Citizen Schools,” he says, “is that if we try to reform education by only reforming schools, it’s kind of like going into battle with one hand tied behind your back. We need to create more learning opportunities that take place in different places, with different teachers, where different kinds of skills are being built. I think there’s something powerful around democratizing education reform, by getting average citizens off the sidelines and on the frontlines.”
For Geoffrey Canada, Ed.M.’75, president of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), reforming education in his community has depended on both the theoretical underpinnings he learned at HGSE and the business savvy he wished he had developed before he took on the job. With its 800 employees and $25 million annual operating budget, the Harlem Children’s Zone is a full-service community organization, comprising charter schools, preschools, afterschool programs, parenting education, and employment and technology centers, among other offerings.
The community Canada serves—60 square blocks in the heart of central Harlem—was beset with problems, including, according to Canada, “the largest number of children going into foster care of any place in the state, the worst-performing schools, the highest incidence of children going into the criminal justice system, and the highest rate of children with asthma ever recorded in the United States.”
Canada realized that, “We would have to come up with a programmatic response that tries to address all of these issues and the underlying causes of these issues, which is how we ended up creating the HCZ project.”
Canada, a sought-after public speaker who also keeps busy performing endless fund-raising for HCZ, says he owes a lot to his HGSE years. “I learned education and systems and curriculum and reading at Harvard,” he says. “That’s where I spent a lot of time and energy, and certainly I use those skills every day in the work that I do.”
But, Canada continues, in today’s competitive funding environment, a little bit of management and business training would go a long way.“I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but there are a lot of people who have lost confidence in schools and community organizations because they just haven’t seen the end results that suggest that these organizations and these schools are making a difference. I would suggest that organizations that will thrive over the next decade are going to be ones that are as savvy about education as they are about management.”
Citizen Schools founders Ned Rimer and Eric Schwarz also credit HGSE with providing the tools they needed when creating their programs. “Both of us went to the Ed School after Citizen Schools started,” recalls Rimer. “I went for two reasons: one is that I wanted to get a much deeper sense of the history of education reform in this country, and school reform—and I do not see those as synonymous. The other side of what HGSE gave me was a deeper appreciation of early adolescent development, which was not an area in which I had a lot of experience.”
For Schwarz, the chief influence of HGSE was in the people he studied and the people with whom he studied. “I had a chance to read pretty deeply from a lot of the classics of education reform, like [the works of] John Dewey. I got to know [Hobbs Professor] Howard Gardner and [Professor of Education] David Perkins, whose work, in both cases, was really influential on Citizen Schools. I got to know [Thompson Professor] Richard Murnane.” Murnane has remained involved with Citizen Schools and even helped with a conference Schwarz and Rimer held at HGSE last year called “Re-imagining Afterschool.”
Meg Campbell recalls the influence at HGSE of faculty members Eleanor Duckworth, Paul Ylvisaker, and especially Harold “Doc” Howe, of whom she says, “As a teacher at Harvard, he was the person who wrote me the biggest permission slip, in terms of dream big, go for it, don’t stay in the box…. He was and still is—I have his picture on my desk—such an inspiration to me.”
As for what they would tell today’s HGSE students, Ned Rimer says he would stress that “high expectations count, and kids respect them a lot.You can engage a lot of people in helping to educate young people.There’s a lot of interest out there, but you have to pave the way.”
Citing the need to energize community members to help educate children, Rimer adds, “One message would be to share strategies of engaging in a purposeful way in the education of the young people in one’s community. It’s not just chaperoning, or coming for fundraisers. It’s figuring out the best way to engage community members in the world of education.”
To politicians who would vote against funding full-service community-school programming, these HGSE alumni would point out the successes of their initiatives. By March 2005, nearly 90 percent of the Codman’s seniors had been accepted to four-year colleges—for a student body that is 99 percent students of color, with 75 percent eligible for free or reduced lunches, that’s a lesson in beating the odds. In addition, Campbell points to her students’ overwhelming success at the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test—an exam introduced in 1998 to widespread controversy, particularly because so many of the state’s urban schools exhibited high failure rates. Fully 100 percent of the Codman students passed the English language arts section of the test on their first try. And, the school boasts the highest attendance rate of any high school in the city. Even with its six-day schedule, 97 percent of its students are there every day.
Rimer says he sees similar levels of success and commitment in Citizen Schools participants. “We’re seeing really powerful leading indicators of long-term results,” he says. “Kids are staying in school more when they’re engaged in this program, they’re tending to go on to more college-oriented high schools, [and] they’re doing better in the broad leadership skills that we’re able to measure.They’re also doing better in some of the particular skill-building areas we focus on, like writing and data analysis.”
Some of the success of such programs cannot be quantified, but can only be experienced. As Eric Schwarz explains, “If more kids grew up with that kind of love and engagement and support, they would be better citizens as well as better students and better workers.”
The need for such love and support, Geoffrey Canada says, couldn’t be more urgent. “It’s time for educators to face the fact that the old model doesn’t work for everybody.When they had this old model they weren’t preparing all students for college—a very small percentage of students were being prepared for college, and everybody else was being prepared for the factories!”
In today’s world, that model no longer applies. Educators say that students need the kind of support that can lift them out of narrowly defined expectations and allow them to reach potential they may not have dreamed they had. As Meg Campbell says, “If you’re serious about helping kids who have been academically under-prepared and who are the first of their families to go to college, and you don’t think it’s too late and we should just give up on them—which lots of people do—then you have to ask what it takes to prepare students so they can succeed in college.We’ve seen that all these other wraparound services are really important.”
Ned Rimer echoes that. “We all owe it to kids to do whatever we can to help them build the skills they need to be successful in their later adolescence and in life.We all ought to be pitching in, we all have a responsibility here, and while schools are part of the solution, they’re not the entire solution.”
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HGSE News, Harvard Graduate School of Education