Academic journal article School Community Journal

Community Paraeducators: A Partnership-Directed Approach for Preparing and Sustaining the Involvement of Community Members in Inner-City Schools

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Community Paraeducators: A Partnership-Directed Approach for Preparing and Sustaining the Involvement of Community Members in Inner-City Schools

Article excerpt

Abstract

Inner-city schools located in high poverty communities often operate with insufficient resources to meet the educational needs of students. Community residents serving as paraeducators offer the dual benefits of expanding instructional capacity and fostering family-school relationships, provided they are appropriately prepared and incorporated with professional staff. This paper introduces a community partnership model for preparing members of the local community to serve as paraeducators and for fostering their working partnerships with professional school staff. A theoretical rationale demonstrating the significance of this model for students from low-income and ethnic minority backgrounds is presented, and key elements in establishing it are discussed. The application of the community partnership model for preparing paraeducators is illustrated through a case example, the Reading Partners program. Future directions to empirically advance the community partnership model are presented.

Key Words: school-community partnerships, paraeducators, urban, schools, communities, capacity building, involvement, families, paraprofessionals, instructional aides, inner-city, reading, literacy, tutors, relationships, teachers

Introduction

Improving educational outcomes for children who live in poverty is a priority for educators working in inner-city school systems. Although census data indicate that 39% of children live in socioeconomic disadvantage nationally, most of these children live in inner-city communities (National Center for Children in Poverty [NCCP], 2007). Additionally, low-income children are most likely to be ethnic minority or non-English speaking and experience a range of social complexities commonly associated with poverty, including maternal educational level below high school, single-parent family constellation, as well as caregiver unemployment (NCCP, 2007).

The disproportionately high percentage of families with young children below the age of 6 years who live in poverty is particularly disconcerting for educators (Children's Defense Fund, 2000; NCCP, 2007). The experience of poverty and related social problems during early childhood may alter healthy trajectories for the development of cognitive, social, and emotional competencies, setting the course for long-term academic difficulties (Dupper & Poertner, 1997; National Center for Educational Statistics, 2008). The impact of poverty is evident in the high prevalence of underdeveloped school readiness among children who live in poverty (Duncan & Magnuson, 2005; Miller, Andrews, Cuéllar, & Jensen, 2007). Nearly half of these children enter school with substantial weaknesses in early literacy and numeracy skills, as compared to economically advantaged counterparts (U. S. Department of Education, 2000).

In the face of many barriers, urban school systems are challenged to provide learning environments that meet the needs of a high number of students with learning difficulties while preserving appropriate educational opportunities for students with grade expected or higher academic abilities (U. S. Department of Education, 2000). Often, these school systems do not have sufficient educational support services for students nor professional development opportunities for teachers. In addition, teacher retention is poor and the availability of competent applicants for teaching positions is limited (Brooks, 2009). Making matters worse, many urban schools operate with the absence of one of the most important ingredients for student achievement-positive, supportive interrelationships among the school, family, and community (Bempechat, 1998, Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Comer, 1984; Smith et. al., 1997).

A promising resource for urban schools is the employment of paraeducators, noncertified staff who can fulfill various roles and responsibilities to expand schools' instructional capacity and foster home-school relationships (French, 1998, Giancreco, Edelman, & Broer, 2003). …

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