Community Schools: Supporting Students in Baltimore

Baltimore, Md., is a community on the rise. According to the latest Maryland State Department of Education Report Card, between 2010 and 2013, Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) raised its four-year graduation rate from 61.5 to 68.5 percent. In the same period, its four-year cohort dropout rates were cut nearly in half, down to 12.1 percent in 2013. While many factors, individuals, and efforts have led to these upward trends, one in particular that stands out is the Baltimore City Community Schools Initiative (BCCSI), led with BCPS partner the Family League of Baltimore. Last month, a group of more than 30 staff from congressional offices and the federal departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice traveled to Baltimore to learn about their work firsthand.

Representatives of community partners supporting Tench Tilghman students, teachers, and families greet visitors during the tour of Baltimore’s community schools and explain their partnerships’ services. (Photo courtesy of Coalition for Community Schools)

Sponsored by the Coalition for Community Schools, in collaboration with other local organizations, the tour was designed to highlight community schools that operate as important hubs in neighborhoods, partnering with local organizations to provide an integrated focus on academics, health, social, and community supports. The tour also coincided with the recent announcement of a new infusion of federal funds to support community schools. Last month, the Office of Innovation and Improvement awarded nine partnerships in six states Full-Service Community Schools grants totaling nearly $20 million.

In Baltimore, there are 43 community schools with partnerships that “allow schools to become resources to the community and offer programs and opportunities that are open to all.” During the tour, our group visited three schools: Patterson High School, Fort Worthington Elementary School, and Tench Tilghman elementary and middle school. During these visits, we were able to see different models and impacts of community school implementation. At Patterson, their 9th-grade transition rates have doubled in the last four years, from 35 percent to 70 percent — now among the highest in Baltimore City Public Schools. Principal Vance M. Benton spoke about many of their outstanding partners, but in particular highlighted Holistic Life Foundation. The organization implements “The Mindful Moments Program,” which includes a 15-minute mindfulness practice for students at the beginning and end of each day, allowing them to start their studies and after-school endeavors with a spirit of tranquility.

Jael Yon, principal of Tench Tilghman, welcomes the community schools tour members and discusses the school’s partnerships, including the health facility that operates during and after school hours. (Photo courtesy of Coalition for Community Schools)

At Fort Worthington, Principal Donald Presswood is working with the Family League of Baltimore and other community stakeholders to envision a new school facility. Scheduled to open in the next few years, the new community school will have space that allows them to provide critical services to families and parents, such as Internet access and parent trainings.

Impressed by this effort, Promise Neighborhoods program officer Jane Hodgdon noted, “Family League works with various funding sources at the federal, local, and state level and braids [funding] together,” making this kind of development possible.

Finally, at Tench Tilghman, the group toured the school’s health facility, where students and their families can receive treatment during and after school hours. A program officer for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program, Brittany Beth, found this facility especially noteworthy. “Students can go to school and not worry about having an asthma attack,” she said. “When mom can’t take them to the doctor, they are covered, and the dental services they receive twice each year might be the only dental services they get.”

As the tour concluded, many in the group reflected on the important role community schools can play as powerful change agents in a community. By partnering with local organizations, the community school model can provide an excellent education to students, as well as life-enhancing opportunities to the parents and families that support them.

Brandon Hill is an intern in the Office of Parent Options and Information division of the Office of Innovation and Improvement.