Taos School Zone (TSZ), a special project of Taos Community Foundation, has spent the last three years convening groups of teachers, nonprofit service providers, parents and administrators to listen …
Taos School Zone (TSZ), a special project of Taos Community Foundation, has spent the last three years convening groups of teachers, nonprofit service providers, parents and administrators to listen to their challenges educating and serving Taos children. In response, TSZ began to research community school models and realized that adopting this approach in Taos could address many of Taos Municipal Schools' (TMS) educational challenges.
A community school is a place where partnerships among the school, parents/caregivers and community organizations enable the integration of academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement - all at the school itself. The community school model relies on a site coordinator who assists community partners to bring their resources to bear at the school, and ensures that the school serves the community as well as students and families. Teachers are relieved of the burden of providing counseling and social services to their students and can focus more fully on academics. Students and their families gain one-stop access to support services at a venue with which they're already familiar. And this approach is a proven success; community schools across the country and in New Mexico have demonstrated good results and strong outcomes.
Based on TSZ's research, Taos Municipal Schools leadership has decided that adopting the community school model at Enos Garcia Elementary School, building on existing programs there, is the logical first step to creating a Community School District. The TMS school board unanimously approved the initiative in February.
Taos is a community where almost half the children under 14 live in poverty, and more than half have been exposed to challenges such as hunger, housing insecurity, parental incarceration, substance abuse within the family and other traumas that make it difficult for students to learn. Teachers experience secondary trauma, in part because of constant pressure and limited time and ability to provide the kinds of social supports that are outside of academic learning, but fundamental to students' success.
Yet, Taos has extraordinary resources: skillful and dedicated educators, committed nonprofit organizations, residents with available time and financial resources, community-minded businesses and devoted caregivers. All too often these resources are fragmented or temporary, or a potential nonprofit partner has no organized entry point into the schools.
The first step in transforming Enos Garcia into a community school will be the hiring of a dedicated, full-time site coordinator. The site coordinator will focus on building relationships between community partners and school staff, engaging families and community residents and coordinating the delivery of support services to students and families both inside and outside of the classroom. TSZ and TMS are seeking funding to support the first year of expenses for the community school site coordinator, who will be an employee of the school district.
Also during the first year, a community school advisory council composed of community stakeholders will be established, a survey will be conducted of existing community and neighborhood needs and assets and programming will be developed based on the survey results. New programs at the school might include counseling, tutoring, health services, food pantry, clothes closet, before- and after-school programs and other social services and enrichment programs. Some of these are already offered on a limited basis, but will be augmented and given a firm structure and context by the community school program.
Enos Garcia Community School will directly serve almost 500 students, 50 full-time educators and approximately 200 families. Eventually it is anticipated that other district schools will join Enos Garcia in the community school movement. Partners for the community school project include Taos Community Foundation, the Las Cumbres Nurturing Center at Enos Garcia, Paso a Paso Early Childhood Network and numerous nonprofit organizations that will be bringing their services to the school. More than two dozen organizations have expressed interest in providing services in Taos schools. Additionally, the town of Taos has unanimously approved a resolution in support of community schools in Taos. And our new Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, has expressed her support for community schools in New Mexico.
Creating a Community School District in Taos will make life better for students and teachers and their families, and help engage the whole community more deeply in education. It is a proven, results-driven strategy to help students become more ready to learn and ready for life.
Dr. Lillian Torrez, is superintendent of Taos Municipal Schools and Catherine Horsey is coordinator for the Taos School Zone.
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