What if a school wasn’t only for students to learn reading and math, but where migrant families could receive legal aid, or teenagers could find therapists, or a child could see a doctor? That’s the idea behind community schools — to serve the needs of students and their families. California has committed $3 billion to convert thousands of its public schools into these community schools in the next seven years.
The UCLA Center for Community Schooling, directed by Karen Hunter Quartz, helps run a few existing community schools in LA.
One of them is in Koreatown — called the RFK UCLA Community School. The public campus serves about 1,000 students from transitional kindergarten to grade 12, and they’re taught by mostly bilingual educators of color, says Quartz.
“It feels like home. Students are known really well. … We get to know their siblings. They’re with us for 13 years. And we get to help them on their journeys and know their families.”
She explains that the institution offers after-school programs, summer programs, social action projects, and local internships. Immigrant students and their families can learn about their rights at a legal clinic on campus, and a multi-generational arts program brings together families to embrace their creativity.
In terms of effectiveness, Quartz says at the RFK UCLA Community School, 82% of graduates went onto college, and 53% of students graduated last year with the State Seal of Biliteracy.
“We also have a high teacher retention rate, and that's a really important number, especially as we watch the teaching profession undergo such struggles in keeping teachers, particularly teachers of color,” she adds.
Teachers here must attend to students’ socio-emotional health and think about how to create sustaining workplaces, she notes.
“So they're not running around doing everything, but there is a team, there's a solid support staff of people that are there to provide mental health services, therapy, any other kinds of resources. So these things don't just fall on teachers. So in some ways, right, it’s a whole child, whole teacher initiative.”
Quartz says there couldn’t be a more important time than now to roll out this initiative. “The disparities we're seeing in our communities of color and the need for basic services and supports as children try to process what they've been through these last few years — it’s an incredibly important time.”