Academic journal article School Community Journal

Beyond Involvement and Engagement: The Role of the Family in School-Community Partnerships

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Beyond Involvement and Engagement: The Role of the Family in School-Community Partnerships

Article excerpt

Introduction

School-community partnerships have long been viewed as a promising way to help struggling students, families, and neighborhoods. In the Progressive Era, the local school was commonly viewed as the community's central institution (Dewey, 1902). Schools served as places where community members could hear lectures, debate about civic issues, and use the facility for recreation at night, on weekends, and during school breaks. Social reformers from outside the school system-including muckrakers, activists, public health doctors, women's clubs, and settlement-house workers-sought to improve the lives of children and families in the school setting. These reformers advocated for a larger role of government in helping poor families and for more services at the school site, both during and outside the regular school day (Tyack, 1992). A few of the many new services were vocational guidance, lunches, playgrounds, sex education, health programs, and vacation schools (Cohen, 2005; Sedlak & Schlossman, 1985; Tyack, 1992). A variety of community associations worked with and within these community schools. Sometimes these working relationships took the form of mutual partnerships; at other times, the relationship resembled a patronage system, with a foundation or influential organization bestowing aid on a needy community.

Influenced in large part by the seminal work ofJoy Dryfoos, the early 1990s witnessed a resurgence of the community school movement. Working in the public health sector, Dryfoos (1994) argued that schools cannot meet the needs of students on their own, but must coordinate with social service systems and become "full-service schools." A year later, the president of the American Educational Research Association advanced this agenda, advocating for a new paradigm of schooling, a paradigm that linked "health, social welfare, juvenile justice, extended day educational opportunities, [and] community participation" (Stallings, 1995, p. 8). More recently, neighborhood transformation efforts such as the Harlem Children's Zone as well as grant competitions such as the Choice Neighborhoods, Full-Service Community Schools, and Promise Neighborhood programs have renewed interest in this paradigm. The Promise Neighborhood grant competition, for example, required school-community partners to develop an integrated system of educational programs and family/ community supports "with great schools at the center" (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).

As Harris and Hoover (2003) have written, Dryfoos's work "became a rallying point" for those striving to advance partnership agendas (p. 206). Today, community schools and similar collaborative initiatives rely on numerous types of partners to support their efforts. In some cases, organizations such as the Children's Aid Society (Communities in Schools [CIS], 2010) take the lead in establishing the focus of the partnership. In other cases, school districts initiate partnerships with one or more organizations. In the city of Boston, for instance, the public school system has had a long-standing partnership with the Full-Service Schools Roundtable, a coalition of over 150 members (Weiss & Siddall, 2012). A driving assumption behind each of these partnerships is that the expansion of the academic mission of the school to include health and social services for children and families and to involve the broader community will benefit both individuals and society. Indeed, such partnerships have been found to support student learning, improve schools, and assist families (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Valli, Stefanski, & Jacobson, 2014; Walsh et al., 2014).

But in the struggle to define the movement, exactly how are partnership roles conceptualized and enacted? The general theory of action underlying partnerships provides the beginning of the answer: Positing that schools serve students' academic needs better if they can quickly and efficiently attend to the overall health and well-being of children and their families (Epstein, 1995; Krenichyn, Clark, & Benitez, 2008), partnership advocates push for a closer working relationship with parents and family members. …

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