Community schools have demonstrated higher standardized reading and math scores, better attendance rates, and greater parental involvement, according to recent studies.
A school that offers free wraparound health and wellness services on property to students and their families will launch in August in Manatee County in partnership with the University of Central Florida.
Manatee Elementary School began its conversion to a community partnership school in April, set in motion with a $25,000 contribution from the Manatee County School District to enter into a 25-year contract with UCF.
Sarasota County may soon follow its lead.
UCF’s community partnership model provides students and families with on-site health, social, medical, and educational services. The goal is removing barriers so students can focus on their education. UCF provides an $80,000 grant and monitors the schools using its model.
Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy described community schools as a proven model that works for moving Title 1 schools — those eligible to receive special federal funding because of the students’ economic status — out of poverty.
“If you want to reach kids, the place to do it is on their school campus,” Kennedy said. “When you look at the data that the other community partnership schools in the state have achieved through this model, it’s really pretty astounding. It’s just common sense.”
The foundation of the UCF program is a 25-year agreement that consists of four core partners: a school district, a health care provider, a university, and a nonprofit. These organizations provide services on campus that can be used for free by students and their families.
Recent studies of community schools that have been running for five years or longer have demonstrated higher standardized reading and math scores, better attendance rates, and greater parental involvement.
Sarasota follows Manatee’s lead
Meanwhile, in Sarasota County, Gocio Elementary School may soon become a community school.
Children’s Home Society, which would act as the school’s fiscal agent, recently submitted an application to UCF. If Sarasota County receives the grant, Gocio will act as a pilot location, which may lead to other schools converting if it proves to be a successful model.
“I have been involved and like the potential for such a program,” said Sarasota County School Board member Jane Goodwin. “I’d like to do it at multiple school sites in North Sarasota.”
The district will get word on whether the application is approved in about a month.
As the lead nonprofit, Children’s Home Society of Florida will provide trauma-informed counseling. Teachers will be able to notify CHS if they notice a student is hungry, upset, wearing the same clothes days in a row, or may be homeless. CHS will then provide students with basic necessities so teachers and students can focus on education.
Centerplace Health would take the role of the federally qualified health center that would provide students with behavioral and physical health services on campus.
The University of South Florida, as the university partner, would provide the school with technical assistance, student interns, training and development, and assessment and evaluation.
At Manatee Elementary, all students were deemed “economically disadvantaged” last year, according to the Florida Department of Education.
“Their school population is 100% free and reduced lunch status, so they really do have a low socio-economic community, which means that wraparound services are significant to student success,” Saunders said. “Being able to provide medical, dental, and vision right there on-site and available for the community is going to be a game-changer.”
Manatee Elementary already has an extra empty building, which will be used as the clinic. The free dental, vision services, and mental health services will be facilitated by Manatee County Rural Health and Sierra Health Services, a federally qualified health center.
“If the kids’ health, hygiene, and mental health are good, they can focus on school,” Principal Tami VanOverbeke said. “They can come here and just be kids like they should.”
The central idea is that unattended health needs exacerbated by poverty often negatively affect academic success.
“If you want to address third-grade reading scores, address poverty,” Kennedy said.
The Manatee school district recently proposed rezoning school attendance boundaries, which would likely benefit kids living near Manatee Elementary.
In the proposed rezoning maps, students would attend the schools closest to their homes, and many would be able to walk to school. Some of the students living across the street from Manatee Elementary are being bused across the interstate to the other side of town.
“We do feel that it might benefit (these students) to be in their neighborhood school where they’re able to receive the services there,” Saunders said. “If you’re going to a school in another area, and you can only get to and from school by bus, and they offer after-school activities, you’re not able to participate a lot of times because you have no way to get back home.”
For the next couple of weeks, the public can comment on the proposal. The board will vote in November, and members seemed supportive of changes at the workshop.
Sarasota County also has several zoning insets that result in students being bused to schools well outside their neighborhoods.
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.