The movement to establish community schools in the United States is not new. It dates back to the 1800s. Jane Addams, a social worker, and John Dewey, an educator and reformer, were the first to recognize children learn best when they are supported academically, as well as when all of their needs have been assessed and provided for in the context of their family and the community where they live.
The need for this type of school focused on Chicago’s immigrant communities of that time.
By definition, community schools would need to be responsive to the unique language and cultural needs of the children and families they serve. In our state, querencia is a concept that recognizes the ties we bring with us from our land, our family histories and our communities. They are expressed in our celebrations, the foods we eat, the way we dress, our songs, etc.
Our language is a primordial form of our querencia. English-language learners will become proficient in their second language once their birth language has been well established. Community schools will therefore be responsive to the children, families and neighborhoods where they are located, by recognizing the language needs of their children and parents.
Community schools differ from other schools in that they are based on pillars of practice that support unique strategies that are relevant to the location of the school, the needs of the children enrolled in the school and their families. Partnerships between the school’s leadership team, the family and community providers are supported and maintained. Recommendations and decisions are made by the school’s council, shifting power to the community.
Studies of community schools that have been in operation for longer than five years show improved academic, behavioral and social-emotional outcomes for students and the schools. The emphasis is on the child’s holistic development, not just test scores. There is also improved attendance by the children and greater participation in decision making by the parents.
The state allows students to receive a bilingualism/biculturalism seal on their high school diploma after meeting proficiency requirements in the language/culture of their choice. This is an academic, social and cultural example of how children, their parents and the communities they come from are validated by the school district.
It seems that support for bilingualism/biculturalism should start at the earliest level, when the child is first enrolled in school. A parent should know and understand from the time their child begins pre-K that their birth language and unique culture is an asset that will be supported and maintained throughout their child’s academic trajectory.
A bilingual/bicultural seal would be provided in the child’s transition certificate or diploma at each level of their education: pre-K, kindergarten, fifth grade, eighth grade and finally, when graduating high school if the child has been enrolled in a dual language learning program. Too often, children and parents are given mixed messages about the importance of becoming English learners at the expense of their own language and culture.
In our current world, the more languages and cultures our children know and engage with, the better chances for success in the world they will be living in.