D.C. awards six community schools grants

Six groups have won grants from the D.C. government to help create “community schools” offering students and families supports that extend beyond the classroom, including social services, parent engagement and mental and physical health care.

Each of the six groups, which are partnerships among schools and community-based organizations, will receive $166,667 to use during the 2013-14 school year, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced Tuesday.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education awarded the grants through the District of Columbia Community Schools Incentive Act of 2012. That law required the city to establish at least five “community schools” that would serve as neighborhood hubs, providing a network of services to support children and their families.

“This initiative will help us learn how to efficiently coordinate community services to have a positive impact on students and families in critical-need areas,” Kevin Clinton, chairman of an advisory committee that helped OSSE choose the grant-winners from a pool of 17 applicants, said in a statement.

D.C. education activists have spent years pushing for the city to adopt the community schools model, which has gained traction in other cities such as Cincinnati. They argue that particularly in the District’s high-poverty neighborhoods, improving public education will take more than great teachers — it will also require a commitment and a plan to meet children’s wide range of non-academic needs.

“It took a long time to get to this point, so it’s really exciting,” said Cathy Reilly, executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, who wrote a letter of support for one of the successful grant applications, a partnership between Roosevelt High and the Georgia Avenue Family Support Collaborative.

Reilly said the one-year grants are a start, but won’t make a long-term difference for schools unless the city makes a longer commitment. “$200,000 for one year isn’t going to do it, unless it continues. It’ll just be a shot in the dark,” she said.

OSSE officials said they will work towards continuing the funds after this school year.

The grantees plan to use the money for a wide range of purposes, from truancy prevention to dental care and financial literacy courses, according to a summary of plans provided by OSSE.

Many of the grantees also plan to bolster mental health services, a key need in many schools.

“The kids have so many issues in their lives,” said Lori Kaplan, president of the Latin American Youth Center, a grantee that runs three charter schools for youth ages 16 to 24, many of whom have returned to school after dropping out once.

Many of the students in LAYC’s schools — YouthBuild, The Next Step and LAYC Career Academy — are young parents, homeless or have a history with the juvenile justice system, Kaplan said.

The nonprofit plans to hire a mental health clinician and offer health and nutrition classes to help students learn how to take care of their bodies, she said.

It’s not clear whether there will be future community-schools grant opportunities for applicants who were not successful in winning money this year.

“If there happens to be an opportunity to expand the initiative, we will release another RFP to solicit more applications for potential expansion,” OSSE spokeswoman Ayan Islam wrote in an e-mail. “Right now, we’re interested in supporting the current grantees and making sure that they’re set up for potential expansion/replication.”

Here is a link to OSSE’s summary of each group’s plans. A quick rundown:

•Stanton Elementary School (Ward 8) will collaborate with City Year, People Animals Love and the Flamboyan Foundation;

•Edgewood/Brookland Family Support Collaborative will partner with two Ward 6 schools, Jefferson Academy and Amidon-Bowen Elementary, as well as the DC Children’s Trust Fund, Family Preservation Services and DreamsWork, Inc.;

•Three Latin American Youth Center charter schools (The Next Step, Youth Build and LAYC Career Academy, all in Ward 1) will partner with Mary’s Center;

•Briya Public Charter School (Ward 1) will partner with Bancroft Elementary, Mary’s Center, and the Flamboyan Foundation;

•E.L. Haynes’s middle and high schools (Ward 4) will partner with Mary’s Center;

•Roosevelt High School and the Georgia Avenue Family Support Collaborative are workign together with the support of a number of community groups.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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