Carleton College and Greenvale Park Elementary Deepen Engagement through Community School Model
In the fall of 2014, Greenvale Park Elementary School embarked on a quest to reimagine itself. When Northfield reorganized its elementary schools into neighborhood-bound attendance zones, Greenvale became home to the district’s largest proportion of Latino students and the only school in the district to reach almost 50 percent students from low-income families. School and community advocates came together and, in partnership with the Healthy Community Initiative, proposed that Greenvale adopt a community school model, transforming it into a hub of connectedness. Supported by a Minnesota Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Center grant and other community funds and committed partners including Carleton College and St. Olaf College, the community school has come to life. Now, each Tuesday and Thursday evening the school is open until 8 pm, offering an array of free programming for youth and adults alike, including English language and exercise classes for adults, child care for those adults’ children, homework help for students from elementary to high school, dental and medical services, shared meals and food resources, neighborhood meetings, art classes, science clubs, and more.
The community school model is a vivid example of John McKnight’s asset-based vision for the school “not only as an ‘educational institution’ but also as a rich collection of specific resources which can be used for strengthening the social and economic fabric of the entire community.” (Hear more from John McKnight in his keynote at the 2014 MNCC Summit here.) Laura Berdahl, co-coordinator of Greenvale Park’s community school model, emphasizes relationship building and strengthening of social fabric as key outcomes of the community school’s early work. She notices signs of a shift lately: one teacher told her she “feels like parents are much more at home, like this is their school” after a year of the community school. Berdahl sees parents becoming more connected to each other because they see each other again and again. She notes that the PTO’s Move-a-Thon was bigger than ever this year, perhaps a sign that families are increasingly connected to each other and the school. A striking 100-175 people have been turning out for each grade level community dinner.
Hannah Nayowith, a Carleton student and Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) fellow explains that her campus has creatively engaged a wide array of assets to help enable the community school’s success. Carleton’s CCCE has connected co-curricular student groups, academic civic engagement classes, and work study students with Greenvale. Taken together, the college is able to navigate a path toward true reciprocity with Greenvale.
The issue of child care, for example, has required a multifaceted partnership, explains Kathryn Lozada, Berdahl’s co-coordinator at Greenvale and a Carleton alum. Carleton’s Spanish faculty have been thrilled to have their students participating in language exchange with Spanish-speaking adults at the community school. Likewise, Spanish-speaking adults have shown strong interest in this opportunity to practice English in their own neighborhood. None of this is possible, however, without child care, which is not funded by the school’s grant. Enter Carleton student volunteers. While the college’s Spanish students cannot provide child care as academic activity, co-curricular volunteers can and do. The college now assigns its America Reads & Counts work study appointments to Greenvale community school and pairs the transportation for those students with the co-curricular childcare volunteers. Nayowith has a lead role in managing the presence of Carleton students at the Greenvale Community School. Working alongside the co-coordinators, she organizes the transportation for the co-curricular childcare volunteers, as well as the work study tutors.
As frequently as CCCE works with faculty and courses, it also works with individual students seeking connection to their community through service. These volunteers have a flexibility that academic civic engagement students and work study students do not. By participating in the community school, they enjoy a connectedness and accountability to a larger effort that individual community volunteers might not otherwise.
All of this allows for expansive partnership possibilities. Berdahl and Lozada are as busy as stage managers with every Tuesday and Thursday a new, complex production. There is hardly time to work with all of the individuals interested in partnership from Carleton. The college addressed this by expanding Hannah Nayowith’s position as a student CCCE fellow to be focused on Greenvale. She arranges vans, schedules volunteers, and helps potential college partners see how they might fit into the broader community school landscape. Berdahl says that “having a point person at the college is a huge plus” – the infrastructure at the college helps ensure that the school’s needs are met consistently and reliably. Together, this web of strengths, needs, offerings, and expenses becomes sturdy enough to hold the richness of reciprocal partnership, helping a love of learning and deep connectedness to flourish at school. Now, when one teacher asks her students what they’re most looking forward to at school this week, most of the time, she hears this: Community school!
by Sinda Nichols, Minnesota Campus Compact
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