BANGOR, Maine — Nearly 70 percent of all children under age 6 in Maine live in households where both parents work, Rita Furlow of the Maine Children’s Alliance told a room full of teachers, school administrators, lawmakers and other education officials on Tuesday. She also presented census data showing that about 17 percent of children in Maine lived in poverty in 2013.
Those are among the reasons Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, hopes the concept of community schools will take hold in Maine. Millett organized the event held at Eastern Maine Community College, which drew at least 50 people.
Community schools are public, private, charter or parochial schools that have built strong partnerships with local groups. The idea is to extend the program schools can offer students beyond the academic curriculum by working with organizations such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls clubs, local colleges, libraries or other groups.
“The word is intentional,” Mary Kingston Roche, public policy manager for the Coalition for Community Schools, a national organization, told the group. “That’s the difference between how a regular school partners with the community and how a community school does.”
Many of the partnerships that make an institution a community school promote the health and safety of the students.
Roche played a radio broadcast about a community school in Cincinnati that created an eye care facility within the confines of the school. At a community school in Baltimore, parents felt empowered to organize themselves to get an abandoned apartment building near the school closed so people could no longer loiter there.
Millett said the Tuesday event, which was the second of two she organized in Maine, was meant to introduce educators to the concept of a community school and help facilitate the partnerships that would make one possible by bringing professionals together in one room.
The key to a community school, and the most significant cost, is to hire a coordinator who can work with parents and students to identify the partnerships that would be most beneficial and bring them to fruition, Roche said. That frees administrators and teachers up to do their regular jobs, she said.
Kara Hay, who is chief executive officer of Penquis and co-hosted the event, said her organization would be adding such a position on Nov. 17. This person would be available to work with schools in Penobscot and Piscatiquis counties on creating those partnerships. The position will be funded through the federal AmeriCorps VISTA program.
“There are a lot of partnerships in schools,” Hay said, adding, “There’s a lot more we can do.”
She said tough economic times make it more important than ever for schools to use this type of strategy.
Superintendent Betsy Webb, who attended the event, said that the Bangor School Department already had many partnerships with organizations in the area.
“For years, we’ve had successful partnerships with the YMCA, the Children’s Museum, the University of Maine, Parks and Recreation, the Police Department,” she said.
The idea, she said, is to “wrap your arms around the students and make sure you never let go of the belief that all students can learn at all levels.”