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Advocates of full-service community schools seek support to expand

By Hank Long

Imagine a school setting where nearly all of your child’s daily needs — save a bed to sleep in — are met.

Beginning with breakfast, a full-day curriculum is intermingled with on-site dental exams and doctor’s appointments, myriad after-school learning and extra-curricular programs, and even child care for a family’s earliest learners. A variety of services and programs are available to families late into the evening and on weekends.

Resources for parents include, home visits by teachers, in-school parenting classes and opportunities to participate with staff in developing and improving new and existing programs.

This is the vision of the “full-service community school” movement, a national trend that has found a local foothold at sites in the Brooklyn Center, St. Paul and Duluth school districts. Supporters believe the model works especially well for communities that experience a high rate of families living at or near federal poverty guidelines.

“We believe that building a strong community that begins in the classroom, radiates throughout the school into after-school programs and into the community — one that includes families — will enhance the social emotional learning and academic achievement for all of our students,” said Stephanie Heilig, principal at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School in Duluth.

HF1709, sponsored by Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), aims to encourage more schools like Myers-Wilkins to go the full-service community route.

The bill would allocate funding annually for eligible schools to create and maintain a full-time site coordinator tasked with assessing the needs of the school community and managing partnerships with public and private organizations that would provide a number of integrated services in the school. Sites would also be awarded $20,000 to aid in development of a full-service community school plan.

The House Education Innovation Policy Committee approved the bill Tuesday and sent it to the House Education Finance Committee. Its companion, SF1206, sponsored by Sen. Alice Johnson (DFL-Blaine), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Budget Division.

Catering to community needs

According to the Community Schools Coalition, a full-service community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and outside community resources designed to help all those who play a role in a child’s life to collaborate in one setting.

The organization has identified more than three-dozen districts across the country that operate at least one full-service community school, three of which are located in Minnesota: Meyer/Wilkins Elementary in Duluth, Brooklyn Center Community School and John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary in St. Paul.

The movement has picked up steam in recent years in metropolitan school districts like Cincinnati, which operates more than two-dozen primary and secondary full-service community schools.

Brooklyn Park Community School partners with Park Nicollet to provide free medical services to students and Children’s Dental Services for dental exams. It also partners with local family resource organizations and immigration and refugee organizations to provide assistance for those in need.

Heilig believes full-service community schools provide essential resources to eliminate educational barriers that exists for many families. Those barriers can include transportation, health, hunger, fear of safety and financial challenges, she said.

Lucretia Grant says she is living proof that the integrated approach that full-service community schools aim to achieve for families in need really do work. Grant and her siblings, who were raised by a single mother, all attended Myers-Wilkins in Duluth and are first-generation college graduates.

“These programs definitely helped us, just inspired us and gave us a view of what could be,” Grant said. 

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