Community Schools take holistic approach to achieving academic excellence.
Milner Principal V. Tyrone Richardson with students in the “bounce house” at a back-to-school celebration
Andrew,* 13-years-old, a seventh-grader, is smart but was unfocused. Active in sports and a natural leader, he was leading fellow students down the wrong path. He was often in trouble with his teachers, arguing, acting up, getting kicked out of class.
Steven,* also 13, had more serious problems. Diagnosed as bi-polar, he refused to take his medicine. Unable to cope with learning disabilities, he avoided school and talked of dropping out. Roaming the streets, he was introduced to drugs. In fits of anger, he’d hit his mother. He threatened suicide.
Then Khentrell Graham entered Andrew’s and Steven’s lives.
Graham is a case manager for Catholic Charities at Milner Core Knowledge Academy, one of five Hartford Community Schools funded in part by a 3-year, $3 million grant from the Hartford Foundation.
Milner Community School Team: Damaris Cabrera, left, Community Schools coordinator; Khentrell Graham, Catholic Charities case worker; V. Tyrone Richardson, Milner principal; and Sandra Ward, Hartford Community Schools director
Community schools, when fully operational, offer an array of educational, social service, medical, mental health, community service and cultural and recreational programs for children and their parents during the school day as well as before and after school, on weekends, and throughout the summer. Leading nonprofit agencies coordinate it all with school officials. The services support one goal – academic excellence.
“My job is to help take care of anything that affects learning so the students can receive a good education,” Graham said.
“He taught me the importance of staying in school, taking my meds, doing my homework, not losing my temper,” said Steven.
Struggles remain, but Steven, who has started high school “is a totally different person than he was two years ago,” Graham said.
So is Andrew, who also started high school, with a goal of becoming an attorney or social worker.
“I knew if I reached him, I’d reach pretty much everybody around him,” said Graham. “He needed direction. I got him involved in after-school programming; I was a mediator between him and his teachers.”
“I grew up,” said Andrew. “Everyone expected more from me so I had to meet their expectations. I’m really glad I got the help.”
“Steven and Andrew are examples of the good that can be accomplished when a variety of support services helps students address their needs,” said Sandra Ward, director of Hartford Community Schools. “It also allows teachers to focus on teaching.”
“It’s important to have people – a family resource aide and behavior technicians from Milner, and case managers and parent coordinator from Catholic Charities – that students can talk to throughout the day,” said Milner Principal V. Tyrone Richardson. “If we didn’t have that extra support, I don’t think we would be as successful.”
“These programs are like gold to the students,” said Milner teacher Lynn Durocher. “The kids do not want to mess up and not be allowed in the programs.”
“All the programs are wonderful,” said one parent of the after-school offerings of cultural and sports activities. “My daughter is in every one of them. These programs help keep her out of trouble.”
The services constitute “an important strategy that helps address the barriers of poverty in Hartford,” said James L. Starr, executive director of Achieve Hartford!, a nonprofit that serves as a catalyst for education reform in Hartford.
Community schools are “really trying to redefine fundamentally what it means to be a school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Really engaging the community: health care clinics, early childhood, the whole gamut. Making school the center of family life.”
“Nationwide, as in Hartford, community schools are having a positive impact,” said Sara Sneed, senior program officer at the Hartford Foundation. “Evaluation shows that if resources are available to address students’ broad needs and concerns, gains are made in student attendance, academic achievement, parent involvement, safety, and student-teacher relationships.” (See sidebar.)
Hartford Community Schools – launched as one component of Superintendent Steven Adamowski’s reform plan to close the wide achievement gap between Hartford and suburban students – are supported by the Hartford Foundation in partnership with Hartford Public Schools, the City of Hartford, represented by its Office for Youth Services and Department of Health and Human Services, United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, and Achieve Hartford!
*Names have been changed.