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Community school gains attention

Community school gains attention

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RACINE — As the end of the school year nears, so does the first year of the community-school model at Knapp Elementary School.

Its concept is simple: Treat the whole child, inside and outside of the classroom.

Aside from the regular curriculum Knapp Elementary, located at 2701 17th St., also focuses on bringing in quality after-school programs to enhance the learning environment along with other programs designed to benefit families.

“We can’t look at the whole child if we don’t look at their family and the community they live in,” said Jamie Racine, community schools manager for United Way of Racine County, which works with Knapp on the program. “We’re looking at all the components and finding out what do those folks need and how can we leverage our resources in our community to help everyone get where they need to go.”

This year, Knapp has provided more than 600 hours of after-school programming to more than half of the total student population.

“We got some preliminary data back from the district that shows our students that are involved in after-school programs have a higher attendance, higher grades and lower office discipline referrals,” Racine said. “Eighty-five percent of our students that are engaged in after-school programs actually have zero office referrals.”

Community benefits

The school has partnered with the City of Racine and plan to have its mobile medical unit come to the school once it’s ready. It has also provided free dental screenings and are currently serving 23 students at the New Beginnings Clinic, which treats mental health.

Families have also benefited financially from the community school model.

According to district officials, 24 tax returns were completed at Knapp through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance with a returning total of over $29,000.

The school also brought in parents to Academic Parent Teacher Team meetings multiple times during the year to keep parents up to date on how their children are doing in class, along with keep them informed about other after school and summer programs.

Tameka Abdullah and her husband have two children at Knapp — one in kindergarten and one in first grade — and she says programs like APTT meetings help keep parents involved.

“It makes a difference,” Abdullah said. “I take off half an hour to an hour early (from work) to make it to their programs because I want to be involved.”

Abdullah added these events help parents connect with each other. At one of these meetings Abdullah met Cehara Morris — their daughters are friends — and have since gotten to know each other.

Morris said the community-school model helps families find a place for regular activities beyond school, such as filing taxes.

“(With) a lot of kids, their parents live in this neighborhood so it’s easier to come in and go,” Morris said. “You don’t have to go searching for a lot of stuff because they try to provide it here at school.”

Possible legislation

The community school model has gotten the attention of state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, who plans on sponsoring legislation that would provide $15 million to the Department of Public Instruction. The money would be distributed in grants from DPI to other school districts looking to establish a community school of their own.

“It seeks to set up seed money to get these schools off the ground in high-poverty (and) rural areas,” Mason said. However at this point it’s unclear how much the grant would be worth it would be “categorical aid” for the districts.

“It’s more complicated than it should be because it’s going through the school funding formula,” Mason said.

Currently the bill hasn’t been assigned a number and has been introduced for co-sponsorship. Mason said state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, is planning to support the legislation in the Senate.

Mason said he introduced the same bill last year but it failed. He’s hoping more of his colleagues understand the impact of community schools.

“In 11 years of doing work in the Legislature and really trying to advocate for closing the achievement gap, the community-schools model is the best I’ve ever seen,” Mason said. “It really invites the community to take ownership of their school.”

“In 11 years of doing work in the Legislature and really trying to advocate for closing the achievement gap, the community schools model is the best I’ve ever seen.”

— State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine

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