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One of the most important educational initiatives of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has been the creation of Community Schools. Growing in number from 45 in 2014 to 267 today, NYC Community Schools partner with local community-based organizations (CBOs) to serve the whole child. That includes expanded learning programs, mental and other health-related services, and family empowerment opportunities.

A big new study by the RAND Corporation shows just how successful New York City’s Community Schools are for their students, significantly improving attendance, school safety, and graduation rates.

Students pointing to coding game on computer

Those outstanding results are gratifying but not really surprising. After all, in order to learn, kids need to be healthy. That’s why some Community Schools provide dental care and mental health support on site.

In order to learn at their best, kids need to be nourished. That’s why some Community Schools operate food pantries for their families.

In order to learn, kids need to have their basic needs met. That’s why some Community Schools give kids warm coats and shoes that fit, and laundry services so they always have clean clothes to wear.

So what exactly was the purpose of the RAND study? It looked at three years of student data and compared the performance of students in NYC Community Schools with the performance of students in demographically similar non-community schools.

Student playing steel drum

The key findings from the study:

  • Students in Community Schools are more likely to graduate on time. In 2017–18, graduation rates in Community high schools were 7.2 percentage points higher than other comparable high schools.
  • Students miss fewer days of school. Chronic absenteeism was 7.3 percentage points lower in Community elementary and middle schools, and 8.3 points lower in high schools.
  • Students feel safer and more supported. For every 100 students in elementary and middle Community Schools, there were 10 fewer disciplinary incidents per year.

These impressive results reflect the power of the City’s Community Schools to deepen relationships in school communities by building close collaborations between school leaders and CBOs.

For example, at P.S. 42 elementary school in District 9, Community School partner Bronx Works helps support school attendance by organizing ice cream and slime-making parties for students with improved and perfect attendance. Bronx Works also provides students with counselling on behavior management, emotional recognition and language, impulse control, and other coping mechanisms. Since the 2015–16 school year, chronic absenteeism has declined by 7.1 percentage points and math proficiency has risen by 9.2 points.

At Renaissance School for the Arts in District 4, Partnership with Children, an affiliated CBO, has provided mental health and social and emotional support for students to help them work through traumatic experiences. Student well-being is at the forefront of the work that occurs there every day. That school-culture transformation has been instrumental in boosting math proficiency by 16.9 percentage points since 2015–16.

At Brooklyn Lab High School in District 19, the lead CBO, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, has worked closely with school leadership to build a culture around attendance while clearly communicating goals and celebrating successes. Since 2015–16, chronic absenteeism has dropped 12.9 percentage points and the graduation rate has increased 10.2 points.

Two students in STEAM class reading vial

So, where do we go from here? As Community Schools gain momentum across the country, New York City has now become a model nationwide. We have demonstrated that school districts can successfully provide educational innovation on a large scale, changing students’ lives along the way. And we know that even greater success awaits even more of our students to come.

To learn more about Community Schools, please see our video:

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NYC Department of Education, 2019