In the late 1980s, The Children’s Aid Society (Children’s Aid) worked with city planners to assess unmet needs in New York City neighborhoods. Through this process, the urban planners identified Washington Heights in northern Manhattan as the most underserved neighborhood in the city. Schools were vastly overcrowded, and social supports for children and families were greatly oversubscribed. The planners also identified a tremendous mismatch between the kinds of community resources available and the actual needs of the community, owing in large part to dramatic demographic shifts as the neighborhood became the port of entry for immigrants coming to New York City from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean and Latin American countries. Subsequent meetings between Children’s Aid and the then-Board of Education revealed that the New York City School Construction Authority planned to build several new schools in Washington Heights.1 Rather than building multiservice community centers in Washington Heights, Children’s Aid decided to join forces with the school system to serve this high-need community with community schools.
In 1992, the Children’s Aid Society formed a partnership with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) to integrate a strong school curriculum with out-of-school enrichment programming, as well as child and family support services designed to remove barriers to students’ learning and healthy development in area schools. According to C. Warren Moses, who served as the society’s associate executive director during this period:
The introduction of such a major change in the local schools and the dramatic expansion of CAS’s activity in Washington Heights was a delicate process. CAS took time and great care to make sure residents, students, teachers, administrators, the teachers’ union, other social agencies, and elected officials, including the mayor and the governor, understood the concept, the implementation plan, and CAS’s commitment to services for the children and families of Washington Heights.2
From an initial partnership school (Intermediate School 218) launched in March of 1992, the DOE-CAS collaboration grew to 16 community schools as of fall 2014. Located in Washington Heights, East Harlem, the South Bronx and Staten Island, the schools include:3
- Manhattan: Mirabal Sisters Campus (IS 319 and IS 324); P.S. 152 Dyckman Valley; P.S. 5 Ellen Lurie; P.S. 50/I.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio; P.S. 8 Luis Belliard; and Salome Urena de Henriquez Campus (City College Academy of the Arts, IS 218, MS 322)
- The Bronx:S. 61 The Francisco Oller Campus; Fannie Lou Hamer Middle and High Schools; P.S. 50 Clara Barton; C.S. 211 The Bilingual Magnet School; Children’s Aid Society College Prep Charter School.
- Staten Island: Curtis High School
Strategy for Change: Children’s Aid Society Community Schools in New York City
The Children’s Aid Society community schools’ approach to school improvement is grounded in four overarching principles. The first two of these illustrate the daily work of Children’s Aid, while the latter two help explain how the initiative has been able to scale up and its success in becoming increasingly self-sustaining. These four principles include: (1) Collaboration: Children’s Aid works to ensure the involvement of a range of key stakeholders—educators, parents, students, funders, community members, service providers, and policymakers; (2) Comprehensiveness: Children’s Aid community schools respond to a wide spectrum of identified needs by marshalling the full complement of partner resources; (3) Coherence: Children’s Aid intentionally aligns resources to drive desired results and coordinates and integrates systems of management; and (4) Commitment: from the start, Children’s Aid employs strategies geared toward making its efforts more sustainable.
In order to serve the range of student needs across its 16 New York City schools, the Children’s Aid Society has developed a number of partnerships, both public and private. These include city and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, health care providers, higher education institutions, private funders, and others, including businesses.
- The Children’s Aid Society. As the lead agency, Children’s Aid directly provides a wide array of services and also engages other youth development, cultural, and health partners. Each school has a full-time community school director, a full-time program director, and a part-time education coordinator. Most schools also have a full-time parent coordinator. Children’s Aid is responsible for hiring and supervising these (and other) staff members, and it generates most of the resources that support their salaries and other program costs.
- New York City. In the community schools, Children’s Aid actively collaborates with several city agencies, including the departments of Education, Health, Mental Health, and Homeless Services; the Administration for Children’s Services; Human Resources Administration; and Youth and Community Development departments.
- New York State. The New York State Education Department and the Office of Children and Family Services provide funding and other supports for Children’s Aid work in its New York City community schools, through such programs as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Advantage After-School, Extended-Day/Violence Prevention and the new Community Schools Grants initiative.
- Community. A number of community organizations work with Children’s Aid to provide supports for academic, social, and cultural enrichment (these include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Developmental Studies Center); health (Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center); and others, such as Cornell University.
Luis A. Malavé, former principal of Intermediate School 218, observed regarding his partnership with the Children’s Aid Society that:
We have a common mission and a clear sense that we have issues we have to tackle together…Our partnership makes the school much stronger than any one entity trying to do the work by itself. We often use the analogy of a marriage without the possibility of divorce, a long-term commitment that we must make work, whatever it takes, because it is best for children.4
Children’s Aid Society community schools are open from early in the morning throughout the afternoon and often into the evening, as well as during weekends and over the summer, in order to provide a wide range of supports for students, their families, and their communities. These include:
- Early childhood education
- In 1994, Children’s Aid piloted an early childhood program in two elementary schools in Washington Heights. The initiative, a partnership between NYCDOE and Children’s Aid, works with expectant families, newborns, and families with children up to age five. “The Zero to Five Program model connects two federally funded programs—Early Head Start and Head Start—to provide comprehensive educational and social services to low-income families and their children.”5
- Children’s Aid also offers a variety of early childhood education programs in its other elementary-level community schools—an expansion that was fostered largely by increased city funding of early childhood programs.
- Health and Mental Health Services
- Children’s Aid operates five school-based health centers, which serve students in eight of its Washington Heights and Staten Island community schools. These health centers provide comprehensive care, including medical, dental, and mental health services.
- Children’s Aid uses a “school-linked” model in the Bronx, providing comprehensive health services at the centrally located Bronx Family Center, a Children’s Aid facility, for students in its Bronx community Schools.
- Children’s Aid Society community schools that do not have school-based health centers are able to provide mental health services through Children’s Aid-employed social workers.
- Families are involved in their children’s health care in a number of ways, as Beverly Colon, Children’s Aid’s Director of Health Services, observes, “Family involvement begins at the time of enrollment in the [School Based Health Center], and year-round services and evening hours facilitate parents’ participation in their children’s care and preventive health education.”6
- Expanded Learning Opportunities. All Children’s Aid Society community schools provide extensive after-school programs, and most also operate enrichment programs before school, on weekends and holidays, and over the summer. Children’s Aid staff work closely with teachers to ensure that these programs complement and enhance what students are learning during the regular school day, and each school hires a DOE staff member (a teacher or administrator) to serve as education coordinator and ensure that alignment. Programs strive to balance academics and other kinds of enrichment (social, cultural, and recreational) and to respond to the needs and interests of the participating students. While specific options vary from school to school, depending on demand, the range of activities includes:
- Academics: Homework help, tutoring, book clubs, computer labs, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and other academic enrichment through the use of high-quality curricula such as KidzLit/KidzMath7
- Sports: Basketball, swimming, volleyball, softball, soccer, track and field, martial arts, double-dutch jump rope, family fitness, and archery.
- Arts programs: Visual arts, creative writing, music, dance, and theater.
- Other offerings: Debate, chess, recreation (ping-pong and pool), cooking, Recycle-a-bicycle, leadership clubs, mentoring, college and career preparation, and field trips.
- The Children’s Aid Society is a founding member of Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), and virtually every Children’s Aid site operates as a Boys & Girls Club. Many of the programs, clubs, and classes offered at Children’s Aid Society community schools use BGCA curricula, such as SMART Moves, Goals to Graduation, PASOS and Project Learn.
- Parent/Family Engagement. Children’s Aid Society community schools provide an extensive range of programs and services for parents and other family members.
- These include adult education classes, cultural events, immigration assistance, and programs to help parents support their children’s education.
- Families can also access a wide array of support services, such as signing up for benefits (health insurance, Earned Income Tax Credit) and receiving financial assistance through Children’s Aid’s participation in The New York Times Neediest fund drive.
- Most Children’s Aid Society community schools have worked with their school partners to designate a physical space in the building for a Family Resource Center, described by Hersilia Mendez, director of marketing and external affairs for the Children’s Aid Society National Center for Community Schools as a magnetic, welcoming space with an open door policy. It is staffed by the parent coordinator and available year round all day and through the evening for parent interaction, training and services.8
Policy Foundations and Implications
The longevity and success of the Children’s Aid Society community schools can be attributed both to intentional practices and strategies—some established from the start, others that have evolved with its expansion —and to specific local, state, and federal policies that support the initiative.
Federal, state, and city policy support
Policies and funding streams that support the development of the “whole child” are more supportive than those that take a narrow view of children’s learning.
- A good example of this kind of enlightened and supportive public policy at the federal level is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which explicitly focuses on “positive youth development” and “enrichment,” and encourages potential grantees to pay attention to multiple domains of young people’s development, including social, emotional, and physical development in addition to the cognitive aspects.
- Similarly, New York State’s support of school-based health centers, after-school programs, and community schools recognizes the inextricable links among the multiple domains of student learning and development.
- At the city level, Mayor de Blasio’s explicit call for the expansion of community schools (stated clearly in his campaign promise to increase by 100 the number of such schools in New York City during his first administration) creates a solid policy foundation for the work.
As noted above, state and city policies that support early childhood and afterschool programs have similarly advanced Children’s Aid Society community schools work.
Joint planning, a key component of the community schools strategy, begins when Children’s Aid and a school’s administration decide to join forces and continues as members of the Children’s Aid Society community schools staff are fully integrated into each school’s Leadership Team, School Safety Committee, Pupil Personnel Team and other governance, planning, and decision-making bodies. Most schools also hold annual planning retreats that involve DOE and Children’s Aid staff.
The same attention to coherence and relationships is evident initiative-wide. Early on, Children’s Aid organized, at the central level, a quality assurance infrastructure that includes regular principals’ dinners that bring together Children’s Aid and DOE leadership; monthly work group meetings for groups serving similar roles within the Children’s Aid team (community school directors, program directors, parent coordinators) focused on professional development and group problem-solving; and an Annual Summer Institute for Directors that provides an intensive professional-development and planning opportunity.9
The Children’s Aid board made a significant initial commitment to its community schools that has continued over the past two-plus decades. Each year, Children’s Aid raises and/or allocates several million dollars in support of its school-based work. This long-term commitment provides the initiative stability that would otherwise not be possible. As described in more detail below, public dollars from a variety of sources provide two-thirds of the funding for the additional supports and services, and private dollars provide the remaining one-third.
A commitment to measuring results and to continuous improvement
From the outset, Children’s Aid has commissioned a variety of third-party evaluations to assess the results of its work. These results have been used for continuous improvement in a variety of ways, such as strengthening communication and partnerships with teachers, and also used for advocacy purposes, helping to make the case that the community schools model is a viable strategy for improving results for students and their families.
- Around 2000, Children’s Aid contracted with CitySpan, a West Coast technology company, to customize its Youthservices.net software for Children’s Aid Society community schools. Many organizations use this software to track participation in after-school programs but Children’s Aid wanted to track and enable analysis of the many other services and programs it provides as well as a full-service initiative.
- In addition, Children’s Aid recently commissioned the Finance Project to conduct a Social Return on Investment study of its community schools. This study focused on the two initial Children’s Aid Socity community schools—Intermediate School 218 and P.S. 5 (Ellen Lurie School)—which had the most robust long-term results. (Highlights of these evaluations and others are listed among the “indicators of progress” below.)
Collaborating on an advocacy agenda
Children’s Aid was one of the three founding members of the Coalition for Community Schools, a national organization established to advance federal policies that support community schools. As an active member of the coalition since its inception in 1997, Children’s Aid participates in federal, state, and local advocacy activities through the national coalition and through other collective efforts including the New York State After School Network, the national After School Alliance, the New York City Campaign for Children, and the national and state Alliances for School-Based Health Care. This work enables Children’s Aid to collaborate with other like-minded organizations to foster the development of evidence-based public and social policies that respond to the documented needs of students and their families. Examples of such policies and resulting programs are the Federal Full-Service Community Schools discretionary grants program; the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program; and the New York State Community Schools Grants program.
Sharing Children’s Aid results and expertise nationally and internationally
Recognizing the importance of scaling up the Children’s Aid Society community schools strategy in other districts and states, Children’s Aid Society founded the National Center for Community Schools in 1994 to respond to growing demand for information and advice about community schools implementation.
- The center’s services—study visits, training, consultation, strategic planning advice, and written and electronic tools—have contributed to the development of over 15,000 community school adaptations across the United States and abroad.
- The center has worked with community school initiatives in over 60 cities across the United States and has hosted visitors from 75 other countries who have come to New York City to learn about the community schools strategy and see schools in action.
- In addition, it has published a variety of implementation guides, including, most recently, a manual entitled Building Community Schools: A Guide for Action.10
Children’s Aid Society leverages a variety of public and private funding streams to underwrite the range of supports it offers, and will continue to need to creatively identify new ones as the reach of community schools expands in New York City.
It is hard to separate funding streams/sources into federal, state, and local channels since many of them are a combination (for example, Medicaid originates at the federal level but is administered by the state, and 21st Century funds originate in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but get administered by the state). Public sources that come from all three levels thus include Medicaid and Child Health Plus for medical and mental health services; federal Early Head Start, federal Head Start, NYC Early Learn, and the recent pre-K expansion for early childhood programs; and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, New York State Advantage and Extended-Day/Violence Prevention programs, and the New York City Out-of-School Time initiative for after-school and summer enrichment programs.
Private sources include a number of national and local foundations, corporations and individuals. Some of the foundation supporters direct their grants to a specific program or school within the comprehensive, multi-site framework of Children’s Aid’s community schools. Recent major support for the work includes the Charina Endowment Fund, the Charles Hayden Foundation, Morgan Stanley and the Teagle Foundation (directed toward the college access program at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School).
Children’s Aid attributes its success in raising both public and private dollars to a combination of several things: solid infrastructure (public and private fundraising staffs); a program staff that partners actively with development staff; prior history and track record not only of raising money but of delivering results; good relationships with funders, public and private; and history of providing comprehensive services, which allows it to generate resources from multiple funding streams (e.g., Medicaid). As well, consistent investments in evaluation and have results has helped us sustain the work. Jane Quinn, director of the Center for Community Schools, says of Children’s Aid’s work, “I believe we are a ‘proof point’ that there are major public dollars out there that can be redirected toward community schools work”
Indicators of Progress
Evaluations find both academic and other gains for Children’s Aid students and their teachers, affirming the benefits of high-quality services that students receive as a matter of course at their schools:
- A recent longitudinal evaluation found positive long-term effects of participation in the Children’s Aid Zero to Five program. The researchers compared third, fourth, and fifth grade standardized test scores in math and English Language Arts of children who participated in the program with the scores of similar students who had not participated. The Children’s Aid participants outperformed their peers 97 percent of the time, demonstrating a substantial long-term positive effect.11
- A 2004–2007 evaluation conducted by ActKnowledge found that middle school students who participated in Children’s Aid after-school programs experienced greater academic gains than their non-participating peers. This evaluation also found that more participation led to higher achievement gains in math and reading test scores and school attendance, and to a teacher-reported increase in students’ motivation to learn.12
- A 2009 ActKnowledge evaluation, conducted just after the NYC Department of Education began comparing individual schools’ progress with that of all city schools and with peer schools, found that Children’s Aid Society community schools averaged greater student achievement gains than other schools. It also found that the community schools had “far higher” attendance than peer schools, and that schools with on-site health centers tended to have higher attendance than those without centers.
- Parents are more engaged in community schools than in others. Fordham University researchers report that among the most significant findings of their six-year study were dramatic differences in parental involvement, specifically: “Parents were more involved, took more responsibility for their children’s school work, felt more welcome within the school and were observed to be a greater presence in the community schools than in comparison schools. Parents also took advantage of the many services offered to them, such as social services and adult education workshops.”13
- Teachers, too, benefit from Children’s Aid. Early Fordham University studies found teacher attendance to be higher at community schools than at comparison schools. This saves schools money by reducing the number of substitutes they need to hire and reduces disruption for students. As well, teachers in community schools reported being able to spend more time on instruction —including class preparation and working directly with children—than their counterparts in comparison schools.14
These multiple gains produce valuable public returns. A Finance Project Return-on-Investment study documented a 10.3:1 ratio at the elementary level and a 14.8:1 ratio at the intermediate school level., i.e., every dollar invested in elementary schools delivered over $10 in social value, and every dollar invested in middle schools delivered nearly $15 in social value.15
CAS community schools have also gained traction in scaling up and asserting policy influence
- Collaborative advocacy efforts with allies have led, among other things, to the establishment of the federal Full-Service Community Schools discretionary grants program, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and the New York State Community Schools Grants program.
- In November 2013, Children’s Aid won a $3 million federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a Parent Leadership Institute in the South Bronx, modeled on its successful one in Washington Heights.16
- In February 2014, Children’s Aid Society President and CEO Richard Buery, Jr., was named deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives. In that capacity, Buery leads New York City’s work to expand early childhood education, after-school programs, and community schools, and to establish a Children’s Cabinet, under Mayor Bill de Blasio.17
- In June 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced an initial plan to honor one of his signature campaign promises—to expand by 100 the number of community schools in New York City.18 At that time, he announced $52 million in funding for the first 40 of them,19 and in August, three Children’s Aid Society community school leaders (two principals and one Children’s Aid staff member) were appointed to serve as members of the NYC Community Schools Advisory Board. As Children’s Aid announced in August,
Mayor de Blasio’s charge to the advisory board is helping enhance existing programs, raising the bar for community schools across the city, increasing parental involvement, and developing new community schools that respond to the needs of the whole child.20
Jane Quinn, [email protected], More information on Children’s Aid Society Community Schools is available at childrensaidsociety.org and at nationalcenterforcommunityschools.org.
1. That body is now the NYC Department of Education.
2. C. Warren Moses, “History of the Children’s Aid Society Model,” in Community Schools in Action: Lessons from a Decade of Practice, Joy G. Dryfoos, Jane Quinn, and Carol Barkin, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 16.
4. Luis A. Malavé, “The Power of Two or More: Partnership from a School Administrator’s Perspective,” in Community Schools in Action: Lessons from a Decade of Practice, Joy G. Dryfoos, Jane Quinn, and Carol Barkin, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 129-30.
5. Andrew Seltzer, “Early Childhood Programs,” Community Schools in Action: Lessons from a Decade of Practice, Joy G. Dryfoos, Jane Quinn, and Carol Barkin, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 73.
6. Beverly A. Colon, “School-Based Health Services,” Community Schools in Action: Lessons from a Decade of Practice, Joy G. Dryfoos, Jane Quinn, and Carol Barkin, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 85.
8. Hersilia Méndez, “Parent Involvement and Leadership in Action,” Community Schools in Action: Lessons from a Decade of Practice, Joy G. Dryfoos, Jane Quinn, and Carol Barkin, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 42.
10. National Center for Community Schools, Building Community Schools: A Guide for Action, New York: The Children’s Aid Society, 2011.
11. Margaret Caspe and Joy Lorenzo Kennedy, Sustained Success: The Long-Term Benefits of High Quality Early Childhood Education, New York: The Children’s Aid Society, June, 2014.
13. Ellen Brickman, Anthony Cancelli, Arturo Sanchez, and Glenda Rivera, The Children’s Aid Society/Board of Education Community Schools Third-Year Evaluation Report, New York: Fordham University Graduate School of Education and Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services, 1999.
15. Laura Martinez and Cheryl D. Hayes, Measuring Social Return on Investment for Community Schools: A Case Study, Washington, DC: The Finance Project, 2013.
16. “As explained in CAS’s project summary, “CAS proposes to bring the full set of parent engagement strategies piloted in one highly distressed NYC community … to another… to verify whether inschool parent resource centers – with parent coordinators trained in utilizing a specific set of parent communication, outreach, and organizing strategies, and adult education classes and leadership institutes – lead to increases in student achievement.” From Michele NcNeil, “25 New i3 Winners to Split $135 Million,” Politics K-12 (Education Week blog), November 8, 2013.
18. Peter Svab, “Bill de Blasio’s Community School Plan Will Need a Lot of Love to Succeed,” Epoch Times, February 20, 2014.
19. “To be eligible schools must be struggling with student attendance, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said after a press conference Tuesday. The city will use a state education grant to supply each school with at least $300,000 annually for four years, depending on its size and needs, Buery said.” From Patrick Wall, “City Launches $52 Million Plan to Turn 40 Schools into Service Hubs,” Chalkbeat New York.
20. The Children’s Aid Society, “Children’s Aid Presence in the New York City’s Advisory Board to Implement Community Schools.”