Community schools go international

Penn hosted an international conference on community schools last week. The International Conference on Higher-Education-Assisted Community Schools held March 29 to 30, and sponsored by the Center for Community Partnerships, brought together faculty members from more than 45 higher education institutions and their school and community partners. We asked the center’s director to comment on the growth of college- and university-assisted community schools.

For nearly 16 years, the higher-education-assisted community school model has provided a rich vehicle for engaging Penn students, faculty and staff in mutually beneficial partnerships with the West Philadelphia community. But it’s not only in West Philadelphia that this model works — its success here has led scholars and students across the country and around the world to adapt it to their own communities.

Higher-education-assisted community schools have proven to be a particularly effective means for engaging students and faculty from nearly every Penn school and college in academically based community service — courses that marry research and learning to community needs.

From Maine to El Paso

With funding from the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds and the Corporation for National Service, the higher-education-assisted community school model has been adapted at 10 sites nationally, and 12 more will be functioning by summer. Assisted by undergraduates from institutions ranging from small colleges like Maine’s Bates College to large research universities such as the University of Alabama-Birmingham, K-12 students are turning local brownfields into community gardens, informing parents on the risks of lead paint exposure in young children, creating a nature trail to link a middle school with a riverfront being revitalized by their city, and “learning and earning” their own computers.

The work of Penn faculty members such as Earth and Environmental Science Professor Bob Giegengack has served as models for colleagues at other institutions. His school-based lead paint risk-reduction program in West Philadelphia, for example, has been adapted by University of Dayton faculty and students for its work with Patterson-Kennedy Elementary School.

Across the country, other colleges and universities are becoming engaged with their local schools and communities in serious and sustained partnerships. In El Paso, for example, the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence was created by a coalition of leaders from the university, school district, and business and community organizations. The Collaborative functions as a broad-gauged effort to improve teaching and learning from kindergarten through graduate school.

All roads lead to Penn

Similar developments are also occurring throughout the world. Penn is the organizational center for the International Consortium on Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy, which is a joint effort of the Council of Europe, South Africa’s Joint Education Trust, and American higher education associations, including the American Association for Higher Eductation, American Association of Colleges and Universities, American Council on Education, and Campus Compact. Academic leaders from Australia, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East have expressed interest in their countries’ and/or regions’ joining the consortium.

From a decade-old national university civic responsibility movement has emerged the “democratic cosmopolitan civic university”, a new type of university engaged in the advancement of democratic schooling and practical realization of the democratic promise of America for all Americans. And now academics in other countries are looking to this model as a way to create such universities and advance democracy in their countries as well.

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Originally published on April 5, 2001