Community school model takes hold at Agnes Little Elementary

Community school model takes hold at Agnes Little Elementary

PAWTUCKET – A new “community school” model instituted this year at Agnes Little Elementary School is seeing tremendous results, according to those at the school.

The grant-funded program was created to build partnerships within the community, said Emily Mallozzi, community school resource coordinator now working at Agnes Little.

The idea behind the national program is to tie local schools into the community through “strategic partnerships,” Mallozzi said, including businesses, faith-based organizations, colleges and nonprofits – organizations with missions similar to those of the school.

For example, said Mallozzi, new partner Boys Town has the goal of empowering families, something she and staff at Agnes Little also want to do. By partnering with an organization such as Boys Town, a national organization with a Rhode Island-based branch, the school can expand its services. Boys Town is now including Agnes Little in a grant application. If that application is successful, the organization could bring a staff member to work at the school full time.

The community school program is starting at Agnes Little, but school officials hope to expand it to two or three other city schools in the next year or two.

According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities, according to members.

The Pawtucket Teachers Alliance was originally awarded a grant from the American Federation of Teachers, a large supporter of community schools, to execute the transformation of Agnes Little. The plan includes preparing the elementary school on South Bend Street to serve as a model for other schools, both in Pawtucket and surrounding areas, that are also interested in embracing this philosophy.

Mallozzi said having a coordinator such as herself in place alleviates the burden from staff members having to take on the organization of the community school model, while still able to contribute to its overall success.

“Just having somebody educated to do it makes all the difference,” she said.

A recent community school event that proved a “huge success” was the Homework Diner on Jan. 30, said Mallozzi. Some 200 people, representing a school of 400 students, attended for an evening of learning and food. The evening focused on helping parents learn how to better help their children with their homework, particularly related to new teaching methods. The most popular workshop was on common core math.

Partner Blackstone Valley Community Action Program was at the event providing information on housing, home buying, heating assistance, weatherization and landlord-tenant rights, the last of which was easily the most popular.

Representatives from Boys Town that evening offered a session on parenting, Spumoni’s provided a full dinner, and the Harvest Kitchen culinary program staff served the food. Teachers turned out in force at the event.

Other community school partners include the Pawtucket Red Sox. The team provides mentors to work with students at Agnes Little.

A significant focus of community schools is professional development for teachers to learn how they can contribute to the model, as well as after-school and before-school programming.

Mallozzi, a Scituate resident and North Providence native, said she’s been “blown away by how Pawtucket’s so embracing this.” When even businesses jump in to help fill a need, as Spumoni’s did, the whole community benefits, she said.

So often, popular opinions are that schools aren’t doing enough to help parents and students, or the opposite viewpoint that parents should be doing the parenting and schools are doing too much, said Mallozzi.

“We can complain about how one or the other is operating, or we can work together,” she said.

Shortcomings among parents often aren’t about them not caring about their children, she said, but about challenges they must overcome, such as language barriers, reading challenges, or never being taught how to interact with their children in certain areas. All of those issues are addressed through a community school model, she said.

Pawtucket’s first community school is currently funded only through June 30, but the hope is that it will be extended for at least a few years, said Mallozzi. This is one of just a few community schools in the state.

Anyone interested in helping out with the local community school initiative, whether it’s to run an art class, tutor, mentor, run a family music class or provide health services is invited to contact Mallozzi at mallozzie@psdri.net .