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Ensuring Healthy Youth Development through Community Schools: A Case Study

©Thinkstock

©Thinkstock

Each year in the United States, nearly 400,000 students drop out of public high school. Among high school graduates, approximately one-third complete no postsecondary education or training. Of those who do, many are unprepared. Forty percent of four-year and 63 percent of two-year college students require some type of remediation. Contributing to these alarming trends is a host of complex, interwoven issues both within and external to schools. Young people, especially those living in poverty, often bring with them to school multiple barriers impeding their learning and development. To address these needs, schools need new strategies to ensure that all students fluidly matriculate and successfully transition to adulthood.

In light of these trends, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Grand Challenges for Social Work prioritize the healthy development of all youths through prevention. Preventing school dropout is a central priority within this grand challenge, along with other emphases such as increasing access to behavioral health care and promoting collaboration. Schools can and should lead efforts toward the vision laid out by the grand challenges. School–family–community partnership models that respond to the complex, diverse needs of students and families have the potential to help ensure healthy development for all youths and address dropout issues.

In a recent issue of the NASW-published journal Children & Schools, researchers shared results from a case study of a community-in-schools program designed to improve healthy youth development. Using mixed methods, this case study explored outcomes associated with the adoption and implementation of a community schools approach in four Title I schools using the Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement. The results were impressive.

The study provided support for the adoption and implementation of a community schools model. Initial indicators of the impact were discernible in the four Title I schools two years postadoption. Foremost, large numbers of youths and families were served through the partnership agenda, particularly in the after-school programs and school-based mental health services. School-level outcomes improved over the two-year period. Specifically, school report card scores improved in three of the four schools (and the one school not improving had the most favorable school report card at baseline and had less room to grow in relation to improvements). Behavioral data improved in all four schools, as both absenteeism and office discipline referals decreased from baseline to two years postimplementation. Schools with the least amount of improvement were the ones most high impact, as there were high levels of needs among students and families, as well as additional barriers related to mobility and family stability. Marked improvements were noted in teacher and staff perceptions, especially in relation to school-level constructs related to the learning support system and school climate.

As the four Title I schools moved through the Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement milestones, new ways of “doing business” were developed. New systems, policies, and partnerships facilitated adoption and implementation, and people working in and with the schools took on new or expanded roles and responsibilities. Schools with solid organizational structures, strong principal and community school coordinators, and effective Care Teams seemed to have the most progress.

The authors call for more research in this area, but clearly a school–family–community partnership model is an effective tool for improving youth outcomes.

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