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Rural Health Information Hub

Community Schools

Using the school as a hub, community schools foster partnerships between educators, families, and community services to expand learning opportunities to students before and after the school day, and to offer health and social support to families. Services may include academic support (such as tutoring and mentoring), social services (such as case management and employment assistance), extracurricular activities, afterschool care, and medical and dental services.

Community schools can address several different social determinants of health (SDOH), including:

  • Connecting families with social services
  • Supporting educational attainment through family literacy programs
  • Improving food access through food banks
  • Increasing economic stability and access to jobs
  • Improving access to healthcare through onsite health services

The community school model may help to create a more equitable environment for students to learn and rural communities to thrive. There are several types of community school models being implemented in rural communities. In every model, the school serves as the center of the community, and the school building opens its doors to community members for daily use. For example, Communities in Schools has developed a model that uses coordinators placed in schools to bring community resources directly into the school. This approach can help reduce barriers for families to help keep students in school and improve academic achievement. This model also works to connect schools with partner organizations to help provide additional resources to children and families.

Examples of Rural Community Schools Addressing SDOH:

  • United Way Community Schools are serving children and their families in the Greater Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. This approach specifically targets school districts with a high poverty rate. In the Lehigh Valley there are 14 schools that have built partnerships with local organizations to be designated as United Way Community Schools. These schools open the school building to the community before and after the school day, and also have a Community School Director who works in the school but is employed through a partnering community-based organization. Outside of the traditional academic programs, these schools connect students and families with food banks, clothing, housing resources, school supplies, and onsite healthcare services including vision and dental.
  • Owsley County Elementary School in Booneville, Kentucky is one of three examples of successful community schools. The school serves as a hub for Owsley County events, even serving as the site for weddings, other community celebrations, and performances. The school works with the entire community to educate and support children and their families. The school administers innovative literacy programs and provides students with technology to help improve academic performance. The school also operates a family resource center, provides health services, and connects parents with classes to complete their GED and higher education courses.
  • Molly Stark Elementary School in Bennington, Vermont is a community school that provides many services to children and their families outside of traditional academics. In particular, the school provides basic health services to students and families. A school nurse helps deliver vaccinations and other preventive health interventions. Molly Stark School also runs a daycare center and preschool, and offers child care and transportation services during GED classes that parents can take in the evenings. The school also promotes family literacy and adult education by offering community college courses.

Implementation Considerations

Community schools provide a variety of services to students and their families. These services require additional funding, training, staff, and buy-in from community members, parents, and school officials. Another challenge for implementing this model is that local school boards may not always be in favor of delivering such robust services at schools and may be more focused on preparing students academically.

Resources to Learn More

Community Schools Playbook: A Practical Guide to Advancing Community Schools Strategies
Provides an overview of the community schools approach and policies that support community schools. Identifies key aspects of comprehensive community schools.
Organization(s): Partnership for the Future of Learning

Implementing Full-Service Community Schools in a Rural Setting: Early Lessons from Leslie County, Kentucky
Case study of a full-service community schools approach in rural Kentucky. Describes how the program was implemented and identifies contributing factors to the early success of this program.
Organization(s): Education Redesign Lab
Date: 07/2022