The students currently attending Sycamore Junior High School in Anaheim recently became the first cohort of their district’s inaugural community school — an opportunity that California’s top education official believes would have helped him when he was a young child.
On Sept. 1, the Anaheim Union High School District launched a community schools resource center during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the middle school campus. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was among those in attendance.
“It’s a pleasure to be with you to celebrate the community school resource center here in Anaheim Union,” said Thurmond. “This is a district that has won more Distinguished School awards than any other district in the state.”
Community schools are public schools that partner with stakeholders to create the conditions students need to thrive. The model promotes caring for the whole child by providing services and support that are based on what students in that specific community need to succeed — whether that’s free healthy meals, health care, tutoring, mental health counseling, or other tailored services before, during or after school, and on weekends.
Anaheim Union defines a community school as a safe place at the heart of the community where students, staff and families are connected and work together to expand opportunities and address the needs of the whole child so that all students can thrive and realize their unlimited potential.
“I can’t help but think of my grandparents when I’m thinking of community schools,” said Thurmond.
During his speech, the state superintendent shared a bit of his family’s story. Born to immigrants and growing up in low-income households, Thurmond recalled losing his mother to cancer at the age of 6 and having to depend on public programs to help him and his siblings survive.
“There was a time when we didn’t have enough food to eat in my household. My aunt would say that God would provide and God did,” said Thurmond. “School programs provided, and these public programs helped my family overcome poverty. The most important public program was getting a great education.”
The school district has secured $24 million in funding for community schools at 13 sites, proportionally the most in the state of California. The center at Sycamore was billed as the first of many new resources for local students and families.
“For the first time, teachers are released to develop an integrated curriculum so that students can help solve issues impacting the community, such as food deserts, health care, environmental justice, housing, energy and transportation needs,” said Anaheim Union Superintendent Michael Matsuda. “No doubt about it, this is a game changer for schools and the communities they serve.”
Some of the funding for the Community Schools Resource Center and community schools across the Anaheim Union High School District comes from the approval by the California State Board of Education of California Community Schools Partnership Program grants. These awards are the first round of grants in a seven-year, over $4 billion program that is part of California’s overall strategy to improve learning through a “whole child” approach.
“Unfortunately, schools in communities with high rates of poverty, homelessness and food insecurity lack the funds to address student mental health issues, improve wellness and support learning recovery,” said State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond. “That’s why this program is so exciting: Well-resourced community schools have the potential to transform students’ lives and improve the well-being of families, thus uplifting entire communities.”
With more than 6 million students enrolled in the public school system, Superintendent Thurmond hopes to expand access to community schools throughout the state.