May 26, 2006
On any given evening, the campus of inner-city Stevenson Elementary School springs to life. The school serves as the hub of the community. Hundreds of children and volunteers come and go. Parents take computer and English classes, or they stroll across the street to the "little brown church" for folklorico lessons. Students brush up on their math, gather for the computer club, and play basketball and soccer.
For seven years, Stevenson has implemented a community school model, which brings together many partners to offer extra support to children and families before, during and after school. While several schools nationwide have implemented the same model, few have done it better than Stevenson, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Community Schools. The national coalition has just named Stevenson as the top elementary community school in the United States. A middle school in Portland and a high school in Indianapolis also won. The three schools were selected from more than 300 community schools nationwide to receive the Community School National Award for Excellence.
"We’re ecstatic. We’re all very proud and excited," said Stevenson Principal Gonzalo Moraga. School staff and supporters will accept the award June 14 in Baltimore at the coalition’s national conference.
"As educators, we cannot do our job alone," said Chris Steinhauser, Superintendent of Schools for the Long Beach Unified School District. "In Long Beach, we’re so fortunate to have willing partners in our parents, volunteers, youth-serving groups, universities and colleges. This award belongs to them, just as much as it belongs to this remarkable school."
In naming Stevenson as the winner, the coalition cited the school’s high level of parent and community trust and involvement. Community schools like Stevenson develop several partnerships with local organizations. A focus on academics and family leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities, according to the coalition. Such schools become centers of the community and are open all day, and often during evenings and on weekends.
At Stevenson, the lead agency for partnerships is the YMCA. At the school’s popular parent center, the YMCA Community School, parents take three-month courses in a Community Leadership Institute, where they learn to advocate for the school and its students. Hundreds of parents have successfully advocated for a crossing guard, a traffic light at a nearby corner, and a bus shelter to protect children from the elements.
Key community partners include the Cal State Long Beach Department of Social Work, which uses research to help the school plan and evaluate programs.
The community approach at Stevenson has paid off with steady gains in student achievement. Since the year 2000, the school’s Academic Performance Index has grown to 715, up 118 points. The school is well on its way to meeting the state target for all schools, 800 points. Stevenson ranks in the top 20 percent of schools statewide that have similar demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. In 2004, Stevenson won the California Distinguished School Award.
The Coalition for Community Schools is an alliance of national, state and local organizations in K-12 and higher education, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services and philanthropy.
Because the after-school period from 2 to 6 p.m. is when unsupervised children are most likely to be the victims of violent crime, community schools fill a big need, providing a safe haven for children while helping to reduce crime and raise student achievement.