West Chicago Elementary District 33 has been expanding its use of a community schools model for the past 11 years. The foundation of the community school model is a belief that when communities work together collaboratively, the outcomes for students and their families will be greater.
This year’s expansion was made possible through the use of a federal Full Service Community Schools grant. This grant has enabled the district to develop building-based approaches that foster the connection between home, school and community. At Currier Elementary School, we have hired a community school coordinator. The coordinator, Alex Cowal, is responsible for building relationships with staff, families and community partners to identify areas of need within the school community. As a result of this work, we have been able to hold two classes of English as a Second Language for parents provided by Literacy of DuPage.
In cooperation with the West Chicago Park District and the Northern Illinois Food Bank, we have provided exercise and nutrition classes for families. Wellness screenings, conducted by the DuPage County Health Department and Kid Care Medical, are available on a quarterly basis. At the school, a Family Center has been created to enable families to drop in for services and access computers to complete job applications and other online resources.
Programming at the Early Learning Center, the federal Preschool Expansion Grant and the state Preschool For All Grant have enabled the district to provide a family support worker and a parent educator. The United Way of Metropolitan Chicago funds a parent liaison, employed by Metropolitan Family Services. These three staff members have facilitated a wide range of services for the families of our youngest learners.
The organization Community Organizing and Family Issues is providing parent leadership training to 15 parents of the school. This training includes strategies for engagement with schools, supporting a child’s education, and advocating for individual, family and community needs. This year, they have also worked with the West Chicago Public Library on a program called Fathers Reading Every Day. This program encourages fathers to read every day to their children. Mothers have not been left out of the picture. The program also offers a Moving with Moms program, where mothers have an opportunity to learn to exercise with their children and encourage important lifelong wellness activities.
West Chicago is one of 15 communities in Illinois with schools that incorporate the community schools model. The number is growing annually as communities and school districts embrace the importance of a holistic approach to child development and the need for partnering to find success.
Charles Johns is superintendent of West Chicago Elementary School District 33.