The UFT began its Community Learning Schools Initiative in 2012 as a way to help schools overcome the academic, social and emotional barriers that poverty creates for too many New York City students.
Four years later, UFT Community Learning Schools (CLS) are helping students succeed, with the schools in the CLS initiative the longest showing the most academic growth.
Decrease in Level 1
Increase in Levels 3 & 4
UFT Community Learning Schools Cohorts 1 and 2
NYC District Schools*
Note: Students in UFT CLS schools are poorer, more likely to be English Language learners or need special education services than the citywide average
“We have a great deal of work ahead of us, but early indications tell us that Community Learning Schools can help combat the effects of poverty in our classrooms and offer an option that can be scaled up to reach more students, not just the lucky few,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
Background: CHAH and the UFT Community Learning School model
CHAH was an early member of the UFT/CLS initiative. The 6-12 school in Washington Heights had existing strong partnerships with Community League of the Heights Inc., New Visions for Public Schools, New York Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center.
CHAH’s health partners allowed the school to enroll more than 6,000 people from the immediate community in the health clinic that shares space with CHAH.
By becoming a UFT CLS school, CHAH was able to leverage even more services: mental health screening for all 245 middle schoolers each year with sustained follow-up as each child ages; vision screening to all 642 students and free glasses to the nearly 200 who needed them.
On the academics front, New Visions provided real-time accessible data, fresh curriculum and strategies that helped the school reduce its percentage of students reading at Level 1 by 36.7 percentage points between 2013 and 2016. During the same period, the percentage of students reading at Level 3 and 4 rose 23.9 points.
CHAH’s August graduation rate was 76 percent this summer, up 13 percentage points from last year.
“We were a struggling school and that’s when it is easy to fall into the test-prep trap — putting all your energy into test prep in the hope you will get a bump up,” said CHAH Principal Mark House. “But real learning is much more than that. Kids are not excited to come to school for test prep. Teachers didn’t get into this job to do test prep. The goal was to do more, try more. And now the numbers are starting to catch up with the work we have done.”
Examples of services in other UFT/CLS schools:
- At PS 156 in Brooklyn, where 29 percent of the students fall into the Department of Education’s “temporary homeless” category, the UFT community school director goes to a nearby shelter to meet with parents — setting up workshops ranging from how to help their children succeed academically to ways to relieve stress.
- At Curtis High School on Staten Island, vision screenings revealed 21 percent of the school’s 2,000 students needed glasses. Every child who needed a pair of glasses received a free pair through CLS.
- At IS 96 in Bensonhurst, a student confided to the school’s new, full-time social worker that she had been sexually abused by a family acquaintance. With help from the school’s mental health team, the girl told her mother what happened, and the abuser is now the subject of a police investigation. After the intervention, the student was more engaged at school, her teachers said, as if a burden has been lifted from her shoulders.
“As teachers, we have all had children arrive in our classrooms after having spent the night in a shelter. Others might arrive hungry. Or come to school afraid because a parent has just lost her job. We help our schools deal with these very real, very basic needs. We start with what our children need and build from there,” said Karen Alford, the UFT vice president for elementary schools.
In the 2016-17 school year, the UFT will have 28 schools in its CLS initiative, a mix of 19 elementary, four middle and five high schools enrolling over 16,000 students across all five boroughs.
If the CLS initiative was its own school district, it would have a larger student enrollment than Community School District 5 in Manhattan or than the school districts of Albany and Hempstead combined.
In general, community school models in New York City and elsewhere are designed to help schools build partnerships with non-profits, business and government agencies. Those partnerships lead to the creation of wellness and mental health service and academic supports inside schools.
The UFT/CLS model includes specific guidelines about how these goals are accomplished:
- Schools apply to CLS and part of the UFT selection process is their ability to demonstrate buy-in from all school communities.
- Schools must conduct a needs assessment and create a mix of programs and services designed specifically to meet those individualized school needs.
- Schools must hire a Community School Director to manage the ongoing CLS development.
- Schools must form an Advisory Board composed of parents, school staff, community members and local businesses and institutions.
- CLS provides monthly professional development for Community School Directors and the Community School Teams for all CLS schools.
* Updated on Oct. 26, 2016