The Boise School District has six Community Schools – schools that provide wrap-around services for students and families. The idea of Community Schools is to provide these services so that kids can come to school ready to learn. Boise’s Community Schools are located at Whitney, Morley Nelson, Garfield, Taft, and Whittier Elementary Schools, and at Frank Church High School. There are over 20 Community Schools in the Treasure Valley.
In 2015, Treasure Valley United Way CEO Nora Carpenter led a group of Treasure Valley non-profit, business, and education leaders to Salt Lake City to visit the Promise Partnership program operated by the SLC United Way. The visit was productive and introduced the group to a new way of thinking about provision of wrap-around services in areas of high poverty.
Soon after, Dr. Robert Barr, former Boise State University Education Dean, national expert on poverty and schools, and author of the award winning book “Building a Culture of Hope” recommended that the District look at Vancouver School District (Washington) and their Community Schools program. He recommended a visit to Vancouver, and provided contact information.
Within a month, Deputy Superintendent (now Superintendent) Coby Dennis, Director (now Deputy Superintendent) Lisa Roberts, and several others visited Vancouver and learned about their program. Vancouver runs a district-directed program that provides “wrap-around” services for students in a particular district neighborhood.
Typically, a district-hired community liaison coordinates services that include a food pantry, clothing closet, access to technology, medical and dental services, translation services, help with filling out forms, assistance with finding housing, and all other manner of supports for families. Many partners are involved in each of the Community Schools, including non-profits such as the United Way and the Y, area hospital and clinics, churches, and others. The idea is to support those families so the children can come to school ready to learn.
Boise initiated its program with five Community Schools (Whitney, Whittier, Morley Nelson, and Garfield Elementary Schools, and Frank Church Alternative High School, then added a sixth last year at Taft Elementary.
Taft’s Community School
Taft Elementary School was built in 1960 to relieve overcrowding at nearby Collister and Lowell Elementary schools. Ninety-two percent (92%) of Taft’s 330 students qualify for free/reduced lunch, and a third of the school’s student population has Limited English abilities. Twenty-one languages are spoken by Taft students, and over 80 students are refugees.
Taft has a food pantry, and clothing is available for families, as well. Licensed mental health services are available, and medical and dental services can be accessed at the school. Additionally, the Boise District’s Ready Set Go! program provided school supplies at a central location (Dennis Technical Education facility) prior to the beginning of the school year, serving over 1,000 students.
Many partners have stepped up as part of the Community School, including local churches, hospitals, Boise City Parks and Recreation, and non-profits. Principal Tim Lowe works with the community partners, as does Community Schools Coordinator Michelle Weickum. Michelle provides classes as part of the Community School services, such as knitting, sewing, and world rhythms drumming.
Boise’s Community Schools have quickly grown into an essential part of the fabric of the District, and are greatly appreciated by community members. In the words of a Taft parent:
“When my family came to Taft, we had just lost everything we owned except our family vehicle…I was once told that if you are homeless, it is impossible to do the everyday things that people take for granted. I didn’t realize how true this was until I experienced it.”
…The Taft community helped us in so many ways, but I want to mention just a few of them that changed our lives. At Taft, my kids were able to have school breakfast, hot lunches, and an after school snack, care, and activities….After working hard to overcome homelessness, joblessness, sleeping in a garage and on floors, wondering if we would have enough to eat…I (now) have my dream job and my kids sleep in warm beds every night and we have food on the table…My kids are smiling again. I am smiling again.
I would not be where I am today without this support. I truly believe God must have led us to Taft to get us through this time. I have never experienced or witnessed such support with so much respect and love. Taft helped us to meet our basic needs and more when there was no one else. Because our basic needs were met, I was able to focus on creating a successful future for my family. I will be forever grateful for Taft’s generous and respectful support that helped my family get back to our ‘normal’.”
Written by Wil Overgaard and Don Coberly.
Wil Overgaard (Weiser) and Don Coberly (Boise) are retired Idaho superintendents who are now Co-CEOs and Co-presidents of RISE, Treasure Valley’s Educational Partnership, which is housed at the University of Idaho’s Boise campus. RISE is a non-profit organization devoted to supporting educational system change and research-based educational practices. RISE’s major supporter is STRIVE Together, a national organization devoted to system change.