Innovation grants help fund Texas community schools efforts

The American Federation of Teachers in September announced grants to fund community school initiatives in Texas and two other states to address children’s well-being and provide multiple pathways and diverse options to help them and their families succeed.

The AFT Innovation Fund grants—$135,000 for each initiative—will kick-start community school efforts in Texas; Daly City, California; and Rome, New York.
“We’re putting skin in the game to incubate and grow education strategies that give kids the supports and options that will help them succeed,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Effective community schooling…programs do that through powerful engagement and learning, addressing children’s well-being beyond academics; strengthening educator capacity; and fostering collaborative efforts among teachers, principals, district officials, families, businesses, nonprofits and other community groups.”

Community schools particularly help level the playing field and close opportunity gaps for disadvantaged children by providing needed programs and services to overcome the consequences of poverty, in addition to a broad academic curriculum. Each community school’s partnership of educators, school leaders, parents and community groups decides what its students and families need. Community schools often have in-school health and dental clinics, social workers, guidance counselors, tutoring and other academic interventions, before- and after-school enrichment programs, safe places for recreational activities, job and food banks, laundry facilities, and literacy programs for adults.

Leaders from unions, nonprofits and community organizations gather in September at an AFT-sponsored event in Washington, D.C., to discuss strategies for expanding community schools programs.

Leaders from unions, nonprofits and community organizations gather in September at an AFT-sponsored event in Washington, D.C., to discuss strategies for expanding community schools programs.

Using the AFT Innovation Fund grant, Texas AFT will hire a full-time statewide community schools coordinator to create and manage community school partnerships in various cities throughout the state. For instance, in El Paso ISD plans are afoot to open four community schools with the help of El Paso AFT.

“This funding will help us organize a statewide network of community school practitioners working to ensure that public schools address kids’ social, emotional and academic needs,” said Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro. “Our state is overdue for a major shift away from test-and-punish accountability and toward neighborhood community schools that support children and families and bring together a broad set of partners and institutions that are needed to help all public school students in Texas excel academically.”

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