By James Johnson, Guest Contributor
Before I became a teacher, I never heard of community schools. I had no idea what they entailed and why they are so important. On the surface, community schools do not seem like they’re anything more than common sense. I mean, they are schools and communities working together to support each other. Shouldn’t every school do that?
Sara McAlister states that schools in impoverished neighborhoods with large populations of children of color are the lowest performing, because of lack of community engagement which affects individual student achievement and school growth. McAlister goes on to state that closing schools and firing most of the staff does not build community, which does not help the student in the long run. I agree with her. It can disrupt the relationships that the teachers and students already have and actively destroys what Bronfenbrenner calls the mesosystem in a child’s life (Leonard,2011). It is more important to try to understand what the problem is for underperforming schools and how we can help them through community involvement and not just try to “fix” them by shutting them down or alienating the teachers and community that have a stake in it.
Family and community engagement are an integral part of whole school improvement. When there is trust among students and teachers and teachers and parents, there is a rise in student achievement. There is trust in each other and a common goal that is shared by everyone. One of the things that I have learned in my journey through education is that no matter how you look at it; the relationship between parents and teachers must be solid in order for there to be academic success for students. Relationships must be strong at all levels in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model. I think that is why it is so hard for community engagement for some schools. Effective engagement is based on the trust that families and teachers have for each other. If there is no trust, there is no relationship. If there is no relationship, then there is no engagement.
It is important for families and teachers to build these relationships over time. McAlister talks about how relationships will only form with time. While I agree with that, I think that a lot of that trust building will have to come on the teacher’s end, more so than the parents. Some families will be wary of teachers and schools if they have had bad experiences other places. That is why professional development that can help teachers build cultural competency would be a step in the right direction. Parents want to be involved in their child’s life, but they want to know that they and the school are on the same page.
McAlister, S. (2013). Why Community Engagement Matters in School Turnaround. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1046328.pdf
James Johnson is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.