Advocates Speak Up to Save Important Supports Provided by Community Schools
Community Schools bring together diverse services and resources to strengthen schools and improve outcomes for students. Community Schools in Connecticut have celebrated many important successes but these achievements are in jeopardy due to funding cuts in the governor’s proposed budget.
CEA joined together with teachers, parents, and community engagement experts to speak out recently at a legislative hearing against the governor’s proposed elimination of funding to the CommPACT Community Schools Collaborative. The CommPACT Community Schools Collaborative is dedicated to increasing community and parental involvement and capacity building for schools and districts, facilitating the inclusion of wrap-around services needed to strengthen student outcomes.
In recent years CommPACT has provided professional learning opportunities to teachers, designed welcoming family resource centers in schools, worked to connect community agency resources with schools, created local and statewide networks of family and community-based organizations, and much more.
“High impact family and community engagement that leads to sustained student success has to be systemic,” Jocelyn Ault, the family and community engagement specialist for CommPACT, told legislators. “Rather than bringing in expensive resources, CommPACT makes highly efficient use of our state’s capacity to build and provide ongoing support to schools which then extends into districts and the state.”
The assistance with capacity building that the CommPACT Community Schools Collaborative provides has led to many success stories at Connecticut schools.
“With help from CommPACT we’ve been able to seek assistance from community leaders and develop a strategic plan to actively engage more of our families—especially our bilingual families,” said East Hartford O’Brien Elementary STEM Academy teacher Monique Butler.
“CommPACT also helped me to create a program called ‘Commit to Stay Fit’ that exposes our learning community to nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness. CommPACT has provided us with professional development opportunities here at O’Brien and at UConn,” Butler said.
Heather Greene, a parent volunteer at West Side Middle School in Waterbury said that, thanks to CommPACT, sixth grade students are piloting a career investigation program called C3 which allows them research STEM career opportunities, visit local companies, and gain firsthand insight into the skill diversity needed in the 21st century.
“This program has selected students go on visits to various businesses within our community to learn about jobs available, many that they may not be aware of,” Greene said. “They are provided journals to share their expectations before and write about what they learned after their visit. This has been so successful that we are looking to expand the program so even more students will be able to utilize it in the upcoming years.”
At Meriden’s John Barry Elementary School CommPACT was able to help dramatically turned around chronic absenteeism. The school took a systemic approach with staff, parents, and students, promoting the value of being in school and cheering student engagement. The school’s success was noted nationally by Attendance Works.
Ault says the Collaborative, which is run by a board consisting of representatives from CEA, AFT-CT, CAPSS, CFSA, and UConn, provides important assistance to the entire school community.
“We cannot expect our classroom teachers to carry all of the burden of remediating language barriers, trauma, learning disabilities, poor health, food and housing insecurity, lack of sleep, and all of the other areas that impact learning in the classroom,” Ault said. “We have to create support systems for our families and caregivers. We need to be able to capitalize on our community resources.”
Grisell Myers, a parent liaison at West Side Middle School in Waterbury, said, “This is not just a program, but for many of us, a way of life. Not just an idea, but a true belief that all stakeholders (parents, students, administrators, and teachers) of our school community have and hold true value. A belief that no one part can be successful without the other.”
Myers urged legislators, “Please continue to fight for the CommPACT Collaborative and the good work it has started.”