When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he made a commitment to shifting the educational landscape in New York City, utilizing a holistic approach to student learning in order to achieve greater educational equity. This commitment led to the adoption of the Community Schools model in specific schools across New York City the following school year.
The Community School model positions schools as resource hubs for neighborhoods. Community Schools are places where students receive high-quality academic instruction, families can access social services, and the community can pool resources to address shared challenges.
To actualize the coordination and integration of academics, health, youth development, and family engagement under one roof, a staff member from a Community-Based Organization (CBO) acts as the Community School Director (CSD). Community School Directors work full-time in the school as a part of the principal’s cabinet and focus on building collaborative partnerships between the school, community, and CBOs, as well as identifying and stewarding resources to create new opportunities that focus on the whole child and whole community. As a second year Community School Director, I constantly work to develop a deep understanding of the fabric that makes up our school community, and then I design and implement programming that supports the needs of all students and families.
The role looks very different at every Community School across the city (and country!), which mirrors the brilliant diversity of our school communities themselves. For example, in Community Schools that only have a single funder, the CSD becomes an expert researcher/grant writer/fundraiser, and works tirelessly to maximize the funds provided by the grant while simultaneously searching for supplemental funding for additional programing. In schools that have various grants, the CSD becomes a master event planner/CEO/accountant, overseeing the sharing of space, resources, and students in a way that serves the needs of all the partners and grants in the building.
At PS 83 in East Harlem, I represent City Year New York as the Community School Director. The Community School model fits incredibly well with City Year New York’s own “Whole School, Whole Child” model, which is a holistic approach to student success coaching that relies upon the creation of positive near-peer relationships between City Year AmeriCorps members and students. At PS 83 and other schools that partner with City Year, AmeriCorps members encourage students to come to school every day, provide academic and social-emotional support, afterschool programming, and contribute to a positive culture and climate in classrooms and the overall school. The passionate City Year team of AmeriCorps members and the staff that support them are my greatest resource as both a Community School Director and City Year employee.
As the CSD of PS 83, I work closely with Principal Francis Castillo. City Year has been partnering with Principal Castillo for 10 years, and when PS 83 became a Community School in 2017, we navigated the changes together. The year prior to the transition, the City Year team was providing afterschool programming for 50 students four days a week. With Ms. Castillo’s support and guidance, and through the Community School model, last year City Year was able to provide 130 students with afterschool programming five days a week, more than doubling the number of students reached.
In our first year as a Community School, we also:
- Hosted our first ever Community School Forum, a special dinner where we engaged over 100 parents in collaborative planning and vision setting for our school;
- Raised over $150,000 dollars in grant funds to bring in dance and music arts programing, new partnerships with community based organizations like the 92nd Street Y, Mariquis Studios, Learning Through an Expanded Arts Program, Turtle Bay Music, and Sugarhill Children’s Museum;
- Engaged the Department of Health in implementing a school-wide vision screening;
- Worked to implement the Active Arts Design program which helped us get an amazing interactive mural that inspires kids to be active in our yard; and
- Leveraged private and government grant funds to receive new technology for our students to help combat summer learning loss, and received other donations from corporate sponsors like the DISH Network.
My favorite aspect of the CSD role is the fact that community networking is at the foundation of the work that we do each day in schools. In just the one block of East Harlem where PS 83 is located, there are five individual co-located schools with five different sets of principals and school leaders. Right across the street is another Community School, and although our schools are run separately, in true Community School form, we all support one another as a larger community. From thinking through common deliverables to a morale-boosting “we’re all in this together!”-- something thing I truly love about my block. In addition to other CSDs, the Office of Community Schools at the NYC Department of Education is incredibly intentional about creating a supportive environment for CSDs, connecting us with resources, trainings, professional development, and community-building.
While the work of a CSD can be tiring, it is by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I’m so excited to get to see some of our plans from last year come to fruition, and to keep building our programing to meet the varied needs of our families, students, and staff. Our school community family keeps growing, and I’m so excited to see this continue into a new school year.
Senior Community School Director
As Community School Coordinator Appreciation Week wraps up, we would like to take a moment to appreciate all that Jahna and the hundreds of other Community School Directors in NYC do to support their schools and communities!