By Dr.Rachel Sutz Pienta
In recent months, Tallahassee leaders have made efforts to address a number of city issues – from food deserts and disparate health outcomes to youth violence and early learning deficits. Earlier this year, Mayor Andrew Gillum convened business leaders for a Children’s Summit. What many thought would herald a move to enact a Children’s Services Council was summarily pre-empted by a wave of gun violence.
Time spent with the Urban Land Institute yielded a number of recommendations for how to address Tallahassee’s “have-have not” community concerns. One recommendation prompted City Commissioner Scott Maddox to pen a “My View” piece for the local Op-Ed page that proposed the implementation of the community schools concept in South City.
Citing Evans High School in Orlando as a successful example, Maddox lauded the collaborative full-services model as a potential South side game changer. Last week, a contingent of city officials and staff traveled to Orlando to tour the school.
The program at Evans High is a collaboration between Orange County Public Schools, the Children’s Home Society of Florida, and the University of Central Florida.
While Evans High School in Orlando claims it is the only full-service community school operating in the state since 2012 and may well be the most comprehensive single school-site program operating in Florida, school districts across the state have been implementing core tenets of the Full-Service Schools movement for over twenty years.
The concept of full-service community schools is an idea more than a century old. The first full-service community schools emerged in the United States in the late 19th century. Education reformers Jane Addams and John Dewey both implemented this idea in schools in urban schools around the turn of the 20th century.
After a period of dormancy, full-service community schools re-emerged as a reform solution in the 1980s after the publication of the landmark national report on education “A Nation at Risk” in 1983.
The 1980s would see states begin to adopt the full-services community school concept. Efforts in New Jersey and New York would be followed by southern states like Florida.
Under the leadership of Governor Lawton Chiles, Florida became an early adopter of what would become a national movement to implement full-service community schools. In 1990, the Florida legislature passed the Full-Service School Act. This legislation was designed to serve students in high risk of needing medical and social services. The Full-Services School Act called for an integration of services at the school site and required that the state education and health departments collaborate to develop these full-service schools. The state also established Interagency Work Groups to bridge the gap between the various stakeholder agencies. Through a grant process, the first round of funds were allocated to 32 districts across Florida to provide a combination of nutritional services, basic medical services, aid to dependent children, parenting skills, counseling for abused children, counseling for children at high risk for delinquent behavior and their parents, and adult education (Online Sunshine: Official Internet Site of the Florida Legislature website, http://www.leg.state.fl.us).
Today, according to the Florida Department of Health site, 66 of 67 counties still use this funds from this legislation to provide services under the Full-Service Schools Act (Florida Department of Health, http://www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/childrens-health/school-health/school-health-program.html)/ :
In addition to provision of all Basic school health services, Full Service Schools provide additional school-based health and social services per Florida Statute section 402.3026, such as: nutritional services, economic and job placement services, parenting classes, counseling for abused children, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and adult education for parents. Sixty-six counties receive funding to provide Full Service School programs in schools with high numbers of medically underserved, high-risk students.
(Florida Department of Health, 2015).
On the federal level, the Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) program is currently supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE) and authorized by section 5411 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. According to the U.S. Department of Education site:
FSCS supports nationally significant programs to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education at the State and local levels and to help all children meet challenging academic content and academic achievement standards and encourages coordination of academic, social, and health services through partnerships between (1) public elementary and secondary schools; (2) the schools’ local educational agencies (LEAs); and (3) community-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, and other public or private entities. The purpose of this collaboration is to provide comprehensive academic, social, and health services for students, students’ family members, and community members that will result in improved educational outcomes for children (U.S. Department of Education, http://www2.ed.gov/programs/communityschools/index.html).
The Coalition for Community Schools, according to their website, is “an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services, government and philanthropy as well as national, state and local community school networks” (Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leadership, http://www.communityschools.org/aboutschools/what_is_a_community_school.aspx).
Funders of their work include The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
Around the nation, full-service community schools have been credited with gains in education and health outcomes. In Tallahassee, the 1990s blueprint for Florida’s children envisioned by the late Governor Chiles may finally be realized by 21st century leaders.