What are Community Schools?
Community Schools, developed in partnership between the City of Little Rock and the Little Rock School District, show Little Rock’s commitment to ensuring equity in neighborhoods that have historically been underserved. The Community Schools build a network in which community members, school leaders, and families work together to develop supports and services that meet the needs of students and their families as determined by detailed need assessments. These programs could include expanded after-school care, social-emotional services, health and nutrition programs for students and families, and job training for parents. District and federal funds, private donations, local nonprofits, and national organizations contribute funding for this programming.
The Four Pillars of Community Schools
While each Community School looks different, all include the Four Pillars in their planning and programming. These pillars include integrated student supports, expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities, family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership. Community School Coordinators in each school serve as a bridge between school staff and the community, working to identify services that meet the unique needs of the students and families within the school.
Current Community Schools
There are currently six schools located in the southern, southeastern, and central portions of the city: Chicot, Mabelvale, Stephens, Washington, and Watson elementary schools, and Mabelvale Middle School. The current schools were chosen from key locations in some of Little Rock's most vulnerable neighborhoods, identified to have needs including food insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, large numbers of families whose first language is not English, and high rates of absenteeism among students. Across these schools, large numbers of students were not reading at grade level. In coming years, we anticipate expanding the Community Schools program to include additional elementary and middle schools.
Since support programs at each school are specifically tailored to the needs of the population it serves, each Community School is unique. Before each school adopts the Community School model, Little Rock's Community Schools team conducts a needs assessment via surveys and focus groups with families, school staff, and community members. This needs assessment helps to identify key priorities and need areas, guiding the Community School team in identifying appropriate programming. Each school's Community School Coordinator works with school staff, district staff, and the city to identify and implement support programming specifically designed to meet the needs of students and families.
This year, many families and school staff across all four schools identified healthcare, internet and technology, food resources, and academic support as need areas. To address food needs, schools opened food pantries for families, held monthly community cafes, distributed food boxes, and planted school gardens in greenhouses. Some schools with particular healthcare needs opened school-based family healthcare clinics with primary care and behavioral health services. To meet the needs of students and families distance-learning, schools distributed Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots. When students returned to in-person classes, schools began offering after-school services and tutoring.
Community schools are a community effort! The Little Rock School District and City of Little Rock have collaborated to support this project. In the pilot year, several local organizations joined to support families and communities, including those listed below.
To support food security efforts, the Arkansas Food Bank stocked emergency food pantries and provided emergency food boxes. Americorps and the Full Circle Farmcorps assisted with implementing community gardens and greenhouses. The World Central Kitchen provided meals through monthly Community Cafe food trucks.
To support healthcare equity, Community Schools partnered with Arkansas Children's Hosptial to open school-based healthcare clinics that serve students and their families and connect families with primary care providers and wellness services.
To support academics, several organizations partnered to offer after school care and tutoring. AR Kids Read tutors worked individually with children both virtually and in-person to provide targeted academic support. Central Arkansas Library Services (CALS) provided support in a variety of areas including academic support, reading material donation, and more.
Throughout the course of the year, Community Schools were very fortunate to have support from a variety of other individuals and organizations. Any support, whether it is in the form of donations, hands-on support, feedback, or programming, is crucial in creating the strong community networks needed for Community Schools to be successful. We look forward to continuing to build and expand our partner and support networks in coming years.