Our students have been exposed to an inconceivable amount of trauma, social isolation, death and illness, food insecurity and economic precarity resulting from familial job loss. In one study conducted in June 2020, around 30% of teens reported increased depression and unhappiness, and feel disconnected from school staff and their peers. These young people will not be the same as they were before the pandemic. We cannot merely seek a return to “normal” when it is clear that the previous status quo has exacerbated the disparate impacts of this pandemic. If we are serious about addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on our city’s children, we need a better way forward and we need it now.
Fortunately, we already have a proven model that addresses many of the challenges our students currently face. Community schools offer a holistic approach to education, improving outcomes by addressing non-academic barriers to learning. The idea of transforming schools from academic hubs to full-service community centers is not new. We need to make every school in New York City a community school.
New York City has been a leader in embracing and expanding the community schools model. In 2012, the United Federation of Teachers launched its United Community Schools, and in 2014, Mayor de Blasio launched the NYC Community Schools Initiative, which has expanded to 267 schools. These schools partner with a community-based organization to design programming to meet their community’s needs, including after-school; comprehensive health care including vision, dental and mental health services; mentoring and tutoring; family engagement; and adult education. They provide entire neighborhoods with access to critical social services, delivered by trusted providers in a familiar location.
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