When schools are more than schools

To be strong, healthy and safe, Baltimore needs leaders who maintain their priorities in challenging circumstances. Last year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake increased funding for coordinated Out-of-School-Time (OST) programming, which uses public schools as a hub to create "Community Schools" that offer a comprehensive range of services and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities.

That was a good first step. As members of the Family League of Baltimore's Community and School Engagement Steering Committee, we now call on the mayor to show leadership by following through on her public commitment to double the funding for an OST and community school strategy, to $10 million.

Community Schools that include quality Out-of-School-Time opportunities make academic sense, economic sense and common sense. They provide economically disadvantaged children with programs that middle-class families can provide every day, thus addressing disparities that hurt our families, our economy and our country. By keeping her commitment, Mayor Rawlings-Blake can make an investment with long-term payoffs.

As evidence for the academic payoff, consider Kentucky. Kentucky embraced a community school model 20 years ago as a component of comprehensive education reform. Since then the state moved from 48th in the nation to 33rd on the National Assessment of Education Progress — an extraordinary accomplishment. While Baltimore is improving on its NAEP scores, in 2011 we were in the bottom third of urban districts in the nation and woefully behind other jurisdictions in Maryland.

Academic success does not happen just because of what takes place in the classroom. It happens when children are physically and mentally healthy and when their families have economic stability and are able to advocate for their children and schools. These issues are on the front burner for Community Schools.

Community Schools also make sense for Baltimore from an economic perspective. For every $1 the city invests through the Family League in community schools, $4 to $7 is generated in services to children and their families that is leveraged from public and private sources at individual school sites and citywide. These range from thousands of tutoring, mentoring and other volunteer hours to $3.5 million in the Healthy Suppers program to donated full-service health suites, early childhood centers and food pantries. That level of return is critical for our families in these dire financial times.

Finally, common sense makes the benefit of community schools, combined with high quality Out-of-School-Time programs, self-evident.

Imagine a student who does not have access to the traveling dental clinic at Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary — but who needs such a program for dental care — trying to concentrate on multiplication tables with a serious toothache. Consider a child whose household is chaotic and lacking in study space getting his homework done without the afterschool homework center at Lakeland Elementary/Middle.

In high-poverty schools, where else would children find enrichment programs such as the art program at Morrell Park, the soccer program at Franklin Square, and all the other learning opportunities that the children and parents of more-affluent schools take for granted?

Community Schools change the lives of our children in so many positive ways. They provide tutoring (Barclay); robotics club (Margaret Brent); clothing, furniture, cleaning supplies and household items for children and their families (Augusta Fells Savage); healthy sports and recreation (Guilford); orchestra (Waverly); science (Commodore John Rodgers); technology (Liberty); engineering and math enrichment (Wolfe Street); healthy eating and culinary arts (Calvin Rodwell); art and music (Hilton); one-on-one and small group mentoring (Tench Tilghman); peer mediation (Bay Brook); and career development (Benjamin Franklin at Masonville Cove), to name some programs. They are also fundamental to increasing parent engagement.

In 2011, Mayor Rawlings-Blake exhibited bold leadership when she publicly promised to double financial support for OST programs by the end of her current term. She also combined funding for OST and community schools, recognizing that the integration of services is crucial to success. Finally, she added $750,000 to the 2013 budget as a down payment on her commitment. Those steps increased the number of community schools from 20 to 38. However, there are over 150 schools in Baltimore, and all of them have needs that could be addressed by the community school strategy.

Total city support for these programs was $5.45 million this year. To make good on the mayor's $10 million commitment will require at least an additional $1.75 million this year, bringing the total city commitment to $7.2 million in its 2014 budget.

Providing this funding is precisely the kind of leadership that Baltimore needs if it is to improve its schools and the quality of life enough to reach another of the mayor's bold goals: increasing Baltimore's population by 10,000 families over the next decade. We stand with and support the mayor in her commitment to provide growing numbers of our children with the benefits that a community school and quality OST program provide.

Bishop Douglas Miles (bd2miles@yahoo.com), the pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church, is chair emeritus of BUILD. Jane Sundius is director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore's Education and Youth Development Program. David Hornbeck, a former Maryland state superintendent of schools, is director of Advancing Community Schools in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad