The National Education Association invited congressional staff to a briefing on school improvement and community schools at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on April 25. During the discussion, David Greenberg, the Las Cruces Public Schools coordinator for community schools, and Mary Parr-Sánchez, President-elect of NEA- New Mexico, spoke with congress about the implemented strategies in the district’s first community school. Greenberg and Parr- Sánchez also told lawmakers how people within the Las Cruces community have come together to actively help create a positive learning environment for students.

(L-R) Ryan Hurley, director of community schools for United Way Milwaukee, Ingrid Walker Henry, vice president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, David Greenberg, LCPS Coordinator for Community Schools, Mary Parr-Sanchez, President-elect of NEA-NM, Portia Reddick White, NEA lobbyist, Stephen Kostyo, policy advisor for Learning Policy Institute's Deeper Learning and Policy teams, and Kyle Serrette, NEA sr. program/policy analyst.

Community schools serve as a network of partnerships that offer services to remove barriers to learning, like trauma, hunger, homelessness and myriad other problems faced by families living in poverty. Research consistently shows that the problems of students in school and the problems of the community they live in are intertwined. One cannot be addressed without the other. The community school model aims to tackle these problems together.

Greenberg said the idea was to double down on educating federal policymakers on community schools and highlight the disparity between how much the federal government spends on funding charter schools compared to community schools.

“The meeting was a step in the right direction,” Greenberg said afterward. “It will be a long term process to engage the federal government and policymakers, but many of them were receptive to the idea and asked good questions.”

During the meeting, school representatives from Milwaukee, WI, used their community schools as a model on Capitol Hill. Greenberg said it was a good opportunity to see what other community schools in the nation are doing, and the positive impact they have on students and their families. Greenberg said that Milwaukee community schools have experimented with a way to increase attendance, and it’s working. Regina Stieber, community school coordinator for Milwaukee’s Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, introduced the “walking bus.” Every Monday and Friday, teachers and parents volunteer to pick up neighborhood kids and walk them to school to help Lincoln Avenue parents overcome barriers to getting their kids to school safely.

When one walks the halls of Lynn Community Middle School, Greenberg said it quickly becomes clear that Lynn sticks to its community-oriented mission. In a room near the front office, community schools coordinator Sylvia Chavez maintains racks of donated clothes throughout the year.

Students also have access to the school’s food pantry, supplied by local non-profit Casa de Peregrinos, with daily snacks and take-home bags of food, which are distributed to help tackle hunger. Between the various agencies involved, some students at Lynn Community Middle School are provided with three meals a day at school, and many take food home for the weekend. Later this year, a mental health clinic is expected to open at the school with visiting counselors from a community health center.

— Samantha Lewis, LCPS Public Relations Coordinator, 575-527-5946, slewis@lcps.net