One-Stop Shop for Cincinnati Students: Community Centers Offer Health Care, Social Services, and Civic Programs in Neighborhood Schools

By Whitmer, Regina | District Administration, December 2013 | Go to article overview

One-Stop Shop for Cincinnati Students: Community Centers Offer Health Care, Social Services, and Civic Programs in Neighborhood Schools


Whitmer, Regina, District Administration


It's not little and it's not red, but the schoolhouse remains the center of Cincinnati Public Schools' neighborhoods. The schools are where students and residents alike have access to free health care, civic programs, and mentoring provided through partnerships with social service agencies.

These partnerships have transformed schools into Community Learning Centers and are central to the district's nearly completed $1 billion construction project, Superintendent Mary Ronan says.

A CLC is a school that serves as a community hub, using school space--during and after school, and on weekends year-round--to provide academic support, health resources, social services, arts programming and civic and cultural opportunities to students, their families, and the community. And Cincinnati recently won a national award from the National Coalition for Community Schools for its CLCs.

The U.S. Department of Education promotes the CLC model--particularly for high-poverty and low-performing schools--by issuing grants through its 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. Cincinnati Public Schools receives funding from the United Way, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and the Halle/US Bank Foundation to employ full-time resource coordinators in school buildings. These funds, combined with district Title I dollars, have expanded this model to 36 of 55 Cincinnati Public Schools.

Ronan says CLCs provide services and programs that significantly improve the lives of students and families in a district where 70 percent of students are eligible for the federal flee and reduced-price lunch program. She notes other benefits, including a boost in attendance from 88 percent in 1999-2000 to 95 percent in 2011-2012. The district's graduation rate rose from 51 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in 2012.

Access to routine medical, dental, vision, and mental-health care has been a key strategy in the CLC initiative, Ronan says. "Now children don't miss school to go to the doctor or counseling," she says.

Cincinnati has become a national model, hosting visitors from around the country interested in implementing community learning centers, Ronan says. "I believe health-related, public-private and public-public partnerships could work anywhere because they are sustainable financially for both parties," Ronan says. "The district provides the space and utilities for free, the hospital provides the staff, and they can bill insurance plus do outreach to families and the community."

Working together

With input from school staff, parents, and residents, the district's 2002 Facilities Master Plan led to 34 new and 16 renovated buildings, all of which feature technological, educational, and environmental advancements. Another three schools not included in the Facilities Master Plan are being renovated with outside grants. The district's remaining two schools are virtual.

The CLC model was identified early in the construction planning by officials who had already seen the benefits of a handful of community service organizations working in some schools. A community engagement campaign--led by the Children's Defense Fund and funded by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation--was established in district neighborhoods to gather the input that helped mold the final plan.

About half of Cincinnati Public Schools have health centers on site with extended hours for students, families and community residents. The clinics have private entrances. In areas with limited access to grocery stores, neighborhood food pantries provide evening and weekend meals for low-income students. A few schools have planted community gardens on site.

Other schools have partners that provide adult education such as GED and parenting classes and employment workshops. Many schools have extended day programs, with after-school partners who offer youth development, academic enrichment, and technology training. …

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