Creating Safe and Supportive Schools: A Community Schools Model at Work

Creating Safe and Supportive Schools: A Community Schools Model at Work

With the goal of creating a safe and supportive environment, a collaborative group of school districts in Wayne and Seneca Counties, respectively, utilize a Community Schools framework to gather and organize resources. It appears that a significant correlation exists between the implementation of these practices and improvement in several key categories regarding the well-being of our young people. 

 

Even before the outbreak of a global pandemic, the challenges faced by school systems across the United States were unprecedented in their scope and intensity (Luthar, Kumar, & Zillmer, 2020). Seneca and Wayne Counties, both rural areas of New York State, are facing particularly dire circumstances. The Evalumetrics Youth Survey, a derivative of the Risk and Protective Factor research, is taken bi-yearly by 6
th, 8
th, 10
th, and 12
th grade students from all 15 school districts in the Counties and has provided us with areas of focus in addressing these concerns (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992). In 2023, this included more than 10% of 12
th grade respondents reporting a lack of attachment to their family, poor family discipline, and a lack of family supervision and rules. In addition, more than 15% acknowledged a lack of perceived risk of harm from alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and almost 30% had five or more risk factors. 

In many districts, schools have become the hub of the community response to these concerns, providing not only for the students’ academic needs, but for their social, emotional, and physical needs as well. To find success in such a complex environment, it is critical to systematically access and utilize resources both within and outside of the walls of our schools (Hester, 2019). Schools in this region are doing so by following a Community Schools model.

 

Wayne County Community Schools, under the leadership of Jay Roscup, and Seneca County Community Schools, which I founded, aim to “Support the development of culturally responsive trauma-informed community schools that integrate school and community resources to provide evidenced-based and restorative practices organized by a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)” (Finger Lakes Community Schools, n.d.). For the purposes of this post, we will focus on the critical aspects of culturally-responsive and trauma-informed.  In our experience, most districts are doing a wide variety of positive work with their students and families, often in isolation, not connected to a broader goal or organized for maximum effectiveness and efficiency. The Community Schools structure allows us to do so.

The Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leadership says: “Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities” (Coalition for Community Schools, n.d.). This is a movement away from schools acting alone and towards active partnerships with community entities. It includes practices as diverse as parent workgroups, therapy provided by outside agencies, oral care from local dentists, and support from neighborhood literacy organizations, often within the friendly and familiar confines of the school building itself. 

 

The first lens we view this work through is culturally responsive practices, which focus on equity, in all its forms. We have worked extensively with Dr. Bryant Marks from Morehouse College around the concept of implicit bias. To achieve a community school that embraces all its stakeholders, it is critical to expand understanding of issues related to diversity and inclusion, increase cultural competency, and offer a variety of growth opportunities for all members of our school community. We have been supported in this work by the Family and Community Engagement Program, under the umbrella of the New York State My Brother’s Keeper initiative (New York State Education Department, n.d.). 

Creating a trauma-informed and safe and supportive school environment has been a primary focus of our work of the last nine years. Utilizing the research of Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, along with our collaboration with Leslie University and the Trauma and Learning Policy Institute, we have worked to spread awareness and implementation of trauma-sensitive practices across over thirty school districts, and more than a dozen conferences. Moving the conversation from “What is wrong with that student?” to “What happened to that student?”, and ultimately to “What’s right with that student?” has been a critical shift in the journey of empathy for educators (Ginwright, 2018). Our
Collaboration ARCH, built on the Blaustein and Kinniburgh work (2018) and the research of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the Trauma Learning Policy Institute, and Leslie University, provides us with four primary domains of intervention to build resilience in young people:
Attachment,
Regulation (Self),
Competency, and
Health.  

 

A key component of our model is community partnerships and engagement. The school districts of Wayne and Seneca Counties have cultivated relationships to meet the diverse needs of their students. This includes, but is not limited to, organizations that provide the following: Family, relationship, and substance abuse counseling, social work services, emergency housing, food pantries, physical and mental health supports, parent/adult education, mentoring, and many other services.  

 

Following the Community Schools philosophy has allowed us to address the challenges of rural poverty in a proactive and thoughtful manner. By focusing on practices that are culturally relevant, trauma-informed, and restorative, and leveraging community partnerships along the way, we have created a Multi-Tiered System of Support in each district that methodically assists our young people in meeting high expectations. In the last eight years, even in the midst of the impact of Covid, risk factors in the key areas previously mentioned have decreased (Table 1).  

Although there will always be work to be done, it is evident the work of the last nine years has had a significantly positive impact on the children of Wayne and Seneca County, and we are excited to continue evolving and improving our support of their needs. Additionally, this work has spread and is now occurring in Onondaga, Ontario, and Monroe Counties as well. Please contact me at
jfantigr@monroe2boces.org with any questions. 

 

TABLE 1: WAYNE COUNTY 12th GRADE STUDENTS 
 
 
 
2015  2023 
Lack Attachment to Family  16.9%  11.7% 
Poor Family Discipline  15.3%  12.7% 
Lack of Family Supervision & Rules  17.5%  10.8% 
Rebelliousness  21.0%  9.6% 
12th graders have 5 or more risk factors  66.4%  29.4% 

*Note: Data from the Evalumetrics Youth Survey in 2015 and 2023