Imagine a school where children are at the center of their education experience, with the support of the entire community behind them. This vision of student-centered learning drives the work of three national nonprofit organizations aligning their networks to achieve better outcomes for young people.
The Coalition for Community Schools, Communities In Schools and StriveTogether today are launching the Students at the Center Challenge, with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Ford Foundation. The initiative will award funding to communities that demonstrate the potential to move toward a student-centered learning system. This approach emphasizes the needs and interests of students over institutions, combining quality educational opportunities with health and wellness services, mentoring, college readiness activities and work-based learning experiences.
Through the Challenge, it is anticipated that planning grants of up to $150,000 will be awarded to approximately 10 communities that commit to changing how they align and expand their work to help students, particularly children of color and low-income children. At the end of a six-month planning period, some communities are expected to receive implementation grants and technical assistance, while others may receive capacity-building grants and support.
“We are excited about the opportunity to support communities in taking an integrated approach to learning, leveraging new strategies, science and tools that put students at the center of their education,” said Jim Shelton, president for Education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “When it comes to children, there isn’t a real choice between supporting their academic development, health and well-being — they are interconnected. Our systems must work together to meet the needs of the whole child to help them reach their full potential.”
Any community where there is at least one affiliate or member of one of the organization’s networks is eligible to apply by completing a letter of intent for the Challenge.
“When we place our students’ interests at the center, the possibilities are endless for things they can achieve with the support of an entire community around them,” said Dale Erquiaga, Communities In Schools president and CEO. “Every student is unique. They go to school with a unique set of skills, needs and experiences that can’t all be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. That’s why this Challenge is so important! Communities designing their own student-centered learning systems will help transform the face of education and pave the way for the next generation of active and successful community members.”
“Every day, we build the capacity nationally for local initiatives to develop community schools, which is a strategy to mobilize business partners, educators, community members and families to advance education and workforce development for the most disadvantaged populations,” said José Muñoz, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, an Initiative of the Institute for Educational Leadership. “We are happy that we have this opportunity to align all of our networks to break the back of poverty through the launching of the Students at the Center Challenge.”
“Our most vulnerable kids are stuck in systems not designed to support them,” StriveTogether Interim CEO Jennifer Blatz said. “We’re looking forward to working with communities on shifting the focus in schools from institutions to students, especially children of color and low-income children. The Students at the Center Challenge builds on our primary goals of helping every child succeed and accelerating progress in communities across the country.”
“Durable, equitable change will only happen if systems are organized and designed in ways that respond to the actual needs and lived experiences of young people, and recognize and tackle the entrenched structural forces that perpetuate inequality,” said Sanjiv Rao, director of Youth Opportunity and Learning for the Ford Foundation. “This approach holds promise because it brings a people-centered mindset to imagining and building the kinds of systems all kids deserve and that is more likely to produce the kinds of outcomes all communities should want for all their kids.”
A convening will be held in January for interested communities before grant proposals are due in spring 2018. Throughout the Challenge, learning will be shared among the grantee communities and with their broader networks to accelerate progress for children and youth across the country. The combined networks of the three organizations total nearly 300 communities.
All three organizations focus on students from early education through postsecondary completion and employment. Together, they lead a movement that unites families, educators and community partners while aligning resources to the individual needs of every child.
Working directly in more than 2,300 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools is the nation’s leading dropout prevention organization proven to keep students in school and on the path to graduation. For the 2015-2016 school year, Communities In Schools served nearly 1.5 million students and successfully helped 99 percent of our case-managed students stay in school.