Chapter Eight: Parents and Families, Communities and Schools

8.7 Communities and Schools

The focus in this chapter thus far has been primarily on the relationship between families and schools, and its importance in producing school outcomes. We now broaden our discussion to include a more extensive set of interactions that involve parents’ collective activities, as well as those of people who do not have children or whose children are not of school age. These people, living and working close to schools, are often referred to as the “community,” although, as will be noted shortly, a strong sense of community in public school neighbourhoods is a relatively rare occurrence today.

Coleman and Hoffer (1987), in their study of public and private schools in the United States, found that the community surrounding Catholic private schools constituted a very significant educational resource. These communities, with their social networks and common norms of behaviour, supported individual parents both in their interactions with schools and with the supervision of their children’s behaviour. Referring to this as social capital, Coleman and Hoffer note,

The feedback that a parent receives from friends and associates, either unsolicited or in response to questions, provides extensive additional resources that aid parents in monitoring the school and the child, and the norms that parents, as part of their everyday activity, are able to establish act as important aids in socializing children. (p. 7)

Similar situations exist within the Canadian public school system, although they tend to be relatively uncommon.

In most public schools, students are drawn from a geographically defined catchment area rather than from a true community in the sense described above. Rather than being supported by a closely knit social group that holds a common set of values and expectations, the public school has become a meeting place for a wide range of interests and loosely structured communities. Within such settings, students develop a peer culture that may work either in harmony or in opposition to the educational goals of the professional staff. In some schools, virtually all of a student’s relationships outside of the family are with other students in the school, while in other schools, students may have a much wider set of relationships. Likewise, the norms of the student culture may be in harmony with those of the school or may serve to undermine them.


Community Education and Community Schools

Calls for community schools that are more responsive to their communities come from many quarters and are driven by many different visions and expectations for schools, their clientele, curriculum, and governance and use a variety of different terminology including “community schools”, “full-service schools”, “hub schools”, and “wraparound schools” (Clanfield & Martell, 2010; Thompson, 2008; Tymchuk, 2001). As indicated in Box 8.7.1, the notion of a community school extends beyond simply shared facilities or coordinated service delivery to focus on “two-way community hubs” (Clandfield, 2010, p. 20) that link enhanced learning in school to local community development.

Box 8.7.1

The Idea of a Community School

  • The Community School concept has its roots in community development ideas. These schools collaborate with community members to strengthen both the school and the community in which the school is located. Close ties to the community ensure that school programs reflect the cultural and socioeconomic life experiences of the children and youth who attend, and also are directed at meeting their unique needs.
  • Community schools are characterized by the provision of at least some of the following integrated school-linked services to children and youth, and their families; education, health, social services, justice and recreation. The school is the most convenient site for the delivery of these community-based services.
  • Community Schools value community involvement to enable students to succeed. Parents especially are encouraged to share responsibility for the education of their children. Community School Councils are made up of representatives from the school, including students, and the community. This structure guides the development of the relationship between school and community, and creates the opportunity for community/school collaboration and participation in important decision making.
  • Community Schools focus on community development as well as school development. As well as programs for students, school facilities are used for community events, meetings, and programs. Adult education activities and day cares are well suited to Community Schools and serve as examples of how community functions can be integrated into the school. An “open door” policy is evident in these schools.
  • Teachers’ roles are different in Community Schools. Teachers are compelled to interact much more closely with the community and various service providers. They are more integrally involved with the non-academic needs of children and youth. Teachers require in-service to prepare them to work collaboratively with non-educators.
  • Administrators play an important leadership role in Community Schools ensuring that decision making is collaborative, and that power is shared with teachers, the Council, and other service providers.
  • Many adults are present in Community Schools on a daily basis, playing a variety of roles from providing services to acting as volunteers. Students have access to a network of adults who support their learning and development. These include a coordinator, teacher associates, nutrition workers, counsellors, and elders-in-residence.

Source. Tymchak, M. (2001). Saskatchewan Task Force on the Role of the School. Final report to the Government of Saskatchewan. Available at


Thompson (2008) makes the distinction between community education as a philosophy based on community involvement and lifelong learning that expands the traditional role of the school and creates a mutually interdependent relationship among home, school, and community (p. 6) and community schools as the delivery system for achieving this philosophy. To this end, the school’s clientele may be expanded from the traditional school-aged cohort to include all ages, from prenatal and early childhood to adults, with the traditional school year replaced by a year-round program. In some jurisdictions, the community school has been able to provide, by means of collaboration between social services—social workers, guidance counsellors, health-care workers, teachers, and so on—multiple services that are essential in meeting the individual needs of all students in the school. An extension of this approach to community schooling is the recognition that in some—perhaps many—situations, schools may not be the best places for students to learn; the community itself may be the best classroom of all.

Perhaps the most comprehensive effort to develop schools as the centre of the community and as the hub of services and supports for the neighbourhood that it serves occurred in Saskatchewan in the early 2000s. From 1999-2001, a Task Force on the Role of the School, chaired by Dr. Michael Tymchak undertook a public dialogue across Saskatchewan that focused on the changing role of schools. The Task force recommended a creative new vision for schools called School PLUS that would see all schools in the province located within a nexus of governmental, third party, and community-based human service organizations. For a short period of time School PLUS was the centerpiece for educational innovation. More recently it has lost some of its prominence in the province even though the ideas of School PLUS still influence the design and delivery of educational services. The Tymchuk report remains an important articulation of a community school model and below in Box 8.7.2 are some excerpts from the Task Force report.

Today in Canada a number of provinces, including Manitoba, British Columbia, and New Brunswick have Community Schools Programs but generally these have taken on a narrower agenda as initiatives providing additional resources to specific high need communities to implement community-based supports for students.

Box 8.7.2

Saskatchewan’s Vision of School PLUS

The Task Force on the Role of the School

Historically, schools have been charged with responsibility for public education. Great vigilance must be exercised in the protection of this trust. Instead, for some time, we have been asking schools to deliver more and more services and meet more and more needs that ‘school’ was never intended to meet. Yet, these needs of children and youth must be met and, more than ever before it makes sense to meet them in association with schools. The Task Force believes that the answer to this dilemma of the role of the school, and the apparent competition between public education and the other needs of children, should not be met by asking ‘schools’ as they are presently constituted to do more and more but, rather, by creating a new environment altogether. … We have called this environment School PLUS.

We say ‘school’ because we want to signal our determination to preserve the vital role of public education as a service for children and a sacred trust for society. As we move further and further towards the new environment, however, it will become clear that the ‘school’ in School PLUS names a mission that has become contextualized in a wholly new way, one that centers on the needs of children and youth.

We say ‘PLUS’ because the recognition of the needs of children and youth as presented in the school environment today requires much more than public education. Schools cannot provide all of the ‘much more’. Indeed, if we foist this expectation on schools, we must expect serious compromise of its role as public educator. Nevertheless, we repeat, the needs are very real and it seems evident that a serious attempt to meet them must be made by society in association with schools.

We say ‘in association with schools’ because, outside of the home, the school is the front-line human service agency; teachers see children every day, and for significant periods of time in the day. Within the realm of public agencies, school is thus the most immediate and most natural context for addressing the needs of the whole child.

The Task Force sees the school of the future within a larger human service network. We see the School dedicated to public education; we see the PLUS providing an environment of other human service support for children and youth. School was never intended to meet the needs of the whole child and neither were any of the other human agencies. If, in fact, we want to meet the needs of the whole child in an integrated manner, then we will certainly need a new human services agency network; but for the ‘net’ to ‘work’, the strands will have to be bound much more tightly together than they are now.

Source. Taskforce on the role of the school (Tymchak, 2001). Excerpted from pp. 4-45.



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