Indeed, community schools are guided by a philosophy that schools and neighborhoods work together to offer services identified by students and parents as crucial, said speakers at InnerCity Struggle’s Eastside Community Schools Convening on Aug. 27 at Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School. For the Ruiz family, that would mean adding more specialized services to students with special needs in the schools.
Ruiz’s son was diagnosed with autism when he entered kindergarten. The younger Ruiz walked on his tippy toes and could barely talk.
“He tried to say simple things like milk but couldn’t,” Ruiz said. “He became frustrated and cried.”
Ruiz’s son is now a junior at Roosevelt High School. He takes great pride in getting to school on time and completing his homework. But finding the best resources for him is a battle that Ruiz and his wife, Maria, have fought for many years.
For instance, in middle school, a special education assistant assigned to work with their son didn’t have the patience or experience to address their son’s needs. They asked school officials to replace her and they did.
“If our schools are equipped with resources necessary to address autism and other issues, our children will secure the quality education that they deserve,” he added.
Community schools could also include more school/community partnerships, such as businesses offering internships to students, and college/career readiness programs, said Laura Zavala, ICS’ director of research and policy. Such schools would also be “data driven,” or understand neighborhood conditions based on the latest data, seek input from youth and parents, and secure equitable school funding for the highest-needs students.
“At the core of the strategy we are proposing is validating the struggle of young people and families – their needs are both complex and comprehensive,” said Maria Brenes, ICS’ executive director. “For our students to achieve academic excellence we must also address the external factors that impact them.
“Academic supports must be enhanced with supports that address their health and wellness as well,” she added.
Momentum for community schools is growing at the local and statewide level, Brenes said. For instance, the state legislature is considering making an investment in community schools.
On the Eastside, schools such as Mendez, Esteban E. Torres High School and Roosevelt High School are investing in a community schools philosophy by establishing strong partnerships and support systems addressing the needs of each school population, Zavala said. It’s a vision that ICS hopes will expand to all Eastside schools and similar communities.
Keynote speaker John Rogers, PhD, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, said community schools emphasize that “all young people have extraordinary capacity and (schools can) provide them with the conditions to succeed.”
“We need to think about the civic abilities of young people…and their holistic development,” he added.
Rogers also led a panel that discussed community schools, which included Michelle Ferrer, Restorative Justice Coordinator at Roosevelt High School-Partnership for Los Angeles Schools; Mario Chavez, Director of Government Affairs with St. John’s Well Child and Family Center; Deycy Hernandez, Project Director, Promesa Boyle Heights at Proyecto Pastoral; and Lester Garcia, Political Director of SEIU Local 99.