Students arrived for the first day of school in 2022 at Abbottston Elementary. Photo by Zshekinah Collier.

As a community school coordinator, Dominique Willis’ goal is to create long-lasting relationships with community organizations.

Willis, who works at Halstead Academy in Parkville, an unincorporated community in Baltimore County, said strong partnerships ensure that students and the surrounding community always have the resources they need to thrive.

“If I was ever to fall out of this role, the school and the community could still operate without me there, and I think that’s the beauty of community schools,” Willis said.

A community school is a school model that is based on schools partnering with local organizations to provide support services to students, but also to the surrounding neighborhood and community. Resources range from tutoring, food pantries, transportation, school supplies giveaways, and social services such as health care centers, learning opportunities, workforce training, and access to mental health services.

There are 358 community schools across Maryland, according to The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future website. The education law, which will invest $3.8 billion in public schools each year for the next 10 years, plans to expand the model statewide.

Ellie Mitchell, executive director of Maryland Out of School Time Network said after the implementation period of the law, Maryland will be home to nearly 700 community schools.

Maryland Out of School Time Network is a local organization dedicated to increasing after-school programs in the state and ensuring that all students have access to them. The network also houses the Maryland Coalition for Community Schools, which advocates for the expansion of the strategy statewide.

Community schools are more than additional resources for students, Mitchell told WYPR.

“It’s really more of a philosophical shift and how you think of what a school can accomplish and should accomplish,” she said.

Mitchell also serves on the Accountability and Implementation Advisory Committee for Pillar 4 of the Blueprint focusing on More Resources to Ensure that All Students are Successful.

She said the distribution of leadership is a critical step in the community school model.

“That’s the switch that actually makes your community school come together,” she said. “It’s understanding that the school does not belong to that principal or to that school district. It belongs to that community that it sits in, which is not a philosophy that everybody embraces.”

Through the Blueprint’s concentration of poverty grant, schools with more than 55 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals, will receive additional funding to carry out community school initiatives. The grant is also used to hire necessary staff like full-time coordinators and health practitioners.

Read more (and listen) at WYPR.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *