SWCOS began working with schools as a school mental health provider, and for more than 10 years, has been a trusted partner supporting Community School strategies at four Baltimore City Public Schools serving 1,290 students. Incorporating a social justice lens, the organization has developed a framework for its Community Schools work, based on an adaptation of Maslow’s (1943), which includes six core principles or “non-negotiables” that every Community School must possess to be successful:
- positive school culture and climate;
- physical and mental wellness for every child;
- family stability;
- safe and secure school environment;
- successful academic performance;
- personal, family, community empowerment and self-determination.
The framework moves beyond doing transactional work (meeting physiologic and safety needs) to doing transformative work (meeting esteem and belonging needs) to eventually fulfillment (meeting actualization needs).
In 2014, SWCOS reorganized the their Community Schools program to be housed under the Positive Schools Center to provide direct support with community school strategies and guide our community schools to take full advantage of the training and technical assistance provided by the PSC.
SWCOS works towards the following community school outcomes:
- Increase in overall school percentage of attendance
- Reduction in school-wide percentage of students who are chronically absent
- Reduction of overall school suspensions
- Reduction in percentage of students who have repeat/multiple suspensions
- Increase in frequency of positive & purposeful interactions between school staff (teachers) and parents
Family & Community Engagement
- Increase in percentage of parents involved in activities that support their children’s education
- Increase in number of parent and community volunteers
- Increase in number of community partnerships
Our Community Schools have been highlighted for their successful outcomes. In 2015, three University of Maryland School of Social Work Community Schools won national awards of excellence because of their ability to address some of today’s most pressing issues and barriers that often keep students from succeeding. Two of the schools highlighted were current or former SWCOS Community Schools (Wolfe Street Academy and Benjamin Franklin High School). Below are brief descriptions of the efforts taken and successes at each school which precipitated the awards:
Wolfe Street Academy - Within nine years of becoming a Community School, Wolfe Street Academy improved from the 77th to the 2nd highest performing elementary school in Baltimore. Because of the Community School strategy, average daily attendance has increased to 96%, students have better access to out-of-school learning opportunities through expanded education, and student mobility has decreased from 46.6% to 8.8%.
Benjamin Franklin High School - Between 2011 and 2015, Benjamin Franklin High School, with SWCOS support, progressed to one of Baltimore's top choice high schools after serving as one of the city's lowest performing high schools in the preceding years. Throughout this course of time, a network of over 75 school partners readily responded to the varied needs presented by students and their families. Additionally, students recorded greater than 17,000 service learning hours in 2015, and through community organizing, they are credited with preventing the construction of a waste incinerator near their campus. The school eventually developed its own non-profit organization, which took over from SWCOS as the lead partner agency. SWCOS continued providing services for families at risk of homelessness within the school.
To achieve this work, each one of our community schools employs a Community School Coordinator (CSC), a licensed SWCOS social worker. The CSC develops partnerships with community organizations to create an environment where academics, enrichment, health and social supports, family engagement, and youth and community development improve student well-being. A hallmark of this role is to lead and train graduate social work interns to build additional capacity for specialized interventions for students and their families, to work with the attendance and school climate teams, and to provide case management to students in each school.
The CSC also work to coordinate all parts of the University Campus in order to align needs with services. For example:
- First and second year medical students offer mentoring and provide individual reading coaching.
- Nursing students provide health screenings and educate students and families on important health issues like asthma and vision care.
- Dental students help identify speech issues, which many teachers attribute to English language barriers, but are related to oral health. In some PSC-supported schools, over time, the involvement of dental services has almost eliminated tooth decay in students.
As we work in Community Schools, we have learned that our graduate students need to be prepared for the full scope of issues children and families bring into schools, including the deep and complex issues associated with experiences of trauma, poverty, and structural oppression. In order to prepare our students for this work, SWCOS has piloted a five-module social justice curriculum, which our staff introduce to students during field instruction supervision; the students then spend time reflecting on and applying it to their work throughout the school year.
This summer, we are working on an evaluation of the curriculum, in order to determine its impact on student learning. The five modules are:
- Social justice (overview)
- Mutuality and reciprocity
- Implicit bias
- Transactional and transformational practice