Students and community members working together in a school garden
Blog, Tips for School & District Administrators

Reimagining Your School as a Community Center

By Jennifer Gunn

Imagine a school that worked together with the community to serve all students and their families, including academics and beyond. Believe it or not, such schools exist and it just might be possible for your school to benefit from a community model.

The Community School

According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a community school is “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources.” And “its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. 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.” Even if your school isn’t able to go full-on community school, you can still take inspiration from the model and the schools highlighted below.

Oyler School of Cincinnati

The Oyler School of Cincinnati’s Public Schools, which serves students from preschool to grade 12, has a long list of community partners for students and families. Services include a parenting center, a mental health center, a clothing closet for students, a vision center, mental health services, a food bank, and mentoring programs. “Oyler strives to produce graduates who will persevere through life and become responsible and productive members of society,” says the school.

How can you be inspired? Solicit donations for clothing and food each month to build an in-school food pantry and clothing closet for students in need. Partner up with local restaurants, grocery stores, and companies for long-term or seasonal donations.

North Country Family Community Center

The North Country Family Community Center in Upstate New York operates “full-service health centers in the Watertown City and South Jefferson School Districts. The health center staff provides primary care and mental health services to students. Dental clinics in both districts provide convenient access to dental care. In an average year, more than 2,500 students make more than 10,000 visits to the NCFHC’s school-based health centers.” All the health services come to students at no cost and don’t require insurance.

How can you be inspired? Contact local health providers in your area, such as hospitals, free clinics, and mental health organizations. Consider ways to partner in service of local children and families. For example, host health clinic days for families on Saturdays or offer in-school dental check-ups. Grants may be available.

Leander ISD Backpack Attack program

Leander Independent School District’s annual Backpack Attack event provides nearly 1,900 students with backpacks and other school supplies in preparation for the school year — all thanks to local community partners. A local church, Smile Generation Dentistry, the Lions Club, and Costco donated items and volunteers to make the event happen.

How can you be inspired? Get in touch with local organizations such as The Lions Club or The Knights of Columbus, as well as with stores like Costco or Staples, to provide school supplies for students. Local churches or community centers can help your school with an event like this. Solicit donations for the school or surrounding communities.

Identifying your community’s needs

Consider and identify the needs of your students and their families. Are students missing days because they don’t have access to clean laundry? Are kids hungry because they don’t have food over the weekend? Do kids need a safe space to go during weekend nights? Do your families need access to health care or mental health care? When you surface your needs, look to the community for people and organizations that may be able to partner up with your school to service these needs. You may need to start small and grow over time but, chances are, help is out there.

If you would like to learn more about how to engage the community in your school, consider earning an MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Community Engagement in Education.

Jennifer L. M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education, where she has been for nearly a decade. She is a curriculum designer and public high school educator in New York City. Jennifer is the creator of Right to Read, a literacy acceleration program for urban adolescent youth that’s steeped in social justice. She is an education writer and is co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference, which won the New York City Department of Education Excellence in School Technology Award this year. Jennifer regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation. Follow Jennifer online at or on Twitter.

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