Call to Join the California Community Schools Network

by Deanna Niebuhr

A few years ago, I worked with a team to write a Healthy Start grant proposal for an elementary school. The principal understood that this proposal writing process presented an opportunity to offer her students a valuable leadership experience. To give students a chance to actively participate in improving their school, she made sure that a group was on the proposal writing team. These students had a real job, editing the student survey that was part of the pre-proposal schoolwide assessment. After an event celebrating the grant, in a bustling cafeteria, I felt a tug on the back of my suit jacket. I turned to find a young lady, one of our fifth graders, standing tall, seeking me out in the crowd to make sure we acknowledged our connection all these months later. “Do you remember me?” she asked. “I was on your team!” she asserted quietly but with a centered confidence. Of course I remembered her.

We shook hands and congratulated each other on our success. What a moment of deeper learning for me! As a former teacher, it was not a surprise to me that this learning moment came courtesy of a student and not a professional workshop or journal article – and for that reason was all the more poignant. I carry this nugget of insight with me in my work today: how powerful being included on a multigenerational team and having an authentic role in a real world project had been to this student. Opportunities to practice real problem solving, critical thinking, and working with others are so essential to student learning. It is important to understand the full complement of needs that can be met through ‘whole child education’ as we strive to prepare students to fully participate in our 21st century global economy.

Now with local control funding, we have a chance to reinvigorate our efforts to ensure every child comes to school ready and able to learn, with the whole range of supports and opportunities they need and deserve.

By focusing on the whole child, we’ve all been working hard to address the achievement gap by better using public resources to ensure that not only basic needs are met, but that each student has the opportunity to grow and reach his or her full potential. By involving students directly in a school improvement process, our proposal writing team had embraced the whole child education approach, ensuring that these students were not just supported, but also genuinely engaged and challenged in school.

Although the whole child concept has been in place for a few years, this a good moment to pause, go back and think a little more deeply about what this means or could mean to consider students holistically – thinking about their physical, emotional, social, and developmental needs as we work to support their academic progress.

Now with local control funding, we have a chance to reinvigorate our efforts to ensure every child comes to school ready and able to learn, with the whole range of supports and opportunities they need and deserve. And California has a wealth of experience to draw upon via longstanding Healthy Start initiatives.

It is in this spirit that you are invited to join the California Community Schools Network. The Network was created to facilitate discussion and information-sharing, as well as to highlight the good work taking place across the state. Like a community school itself, this network and its new website are not just a set of resources, but a powerful new way to connect our community.

In the coming months, the California Community Schools Network will grow, adding more members, more resources, and more opportunities for connecting with colleagues. The Network provides an opportunity for us to work together to share best practices and provide the right tools to enhance the work in each of our communities. Each month, we will release a new chapter of our guide for school districts and their partners, “Student Supports: Getting the Most out of Your LCFF Investment.” Developed primarily by practitioners, this guide delves into questions raised in the context of planning efforts around local control funding and helps school districts adopt community schools practices. The guide dives into effective practices in family engagement, school climate, student mental health, and many others.

Members can connect both as individuals (school board members, district staff, etc.) and as a community by putting your district on the website’s map. This is a great way to demonstrate that your district is at the forefront of the community schools movement in California.

We look forward to connecting with you, your district, and your staff.Visit us at Partnership for Children & Youth.

neibuhrDeanna Niebuhr is senior director for Community School Initiatives at the Partnership for Children & Youth.