So much of a school’s performance is the direct result of the backgrounds of the students it enrolls. Even exemplary teachers cannot always overcome the huge deficits that disadvantaged students bring to class through no fault of their own. That’s why it’s heartening to see what community schools have been able to accomplish (“To Teach a Child to Read, First Give Him Glasses,” The New York Times, Aug. 7).
Similar to the 19th-century settlement houses founded by Jane Addams, community schools provide wraparound services. These include attending to vision, dental and emotional problems. The Harlem Children’s Zone was one of the first to show how this approach helped students. More recently, it is the Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies in New York City. In one year, chronic absenteeism fell to 41.1 percent from 56.5 percent. Over the past two years, the graduation rate increased eight percent to 67 percent.
When students go to school with health issues and inadequate nutrition, it’s not surprising that they don’t adequately perform. Try concentrating when a tooth aches or a stomach growls constantly. Yet students in inner-city schools are expected to learn when they suffer from these conditions. We too often take for granted that all students get a good night’s sleep. But that’s not always the case either. As a result, students are exhausted.
But community schools also offer role models. Students and teachers tend to bond more closely there than in traditional schools. It may be partly because the former are smaller so that teachers get to know their students better. But it also may be partly because community schools take great pains to mentor their charges. For those who come from broken homes, the fact that an adult genuinely cares about them can make the difference between graduating and dropping out.
I hope to see the community-school movement grow in the years ahead. Its potential is only beginning to be appreciated.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.