Beacons for Change
By Matt Larson
The San Pablo Community Schools Initiative is joining the national movement
The recipe for a perfect education is constantly evolving. Everywhere you look there’s a new type of educational facility that is taking a new approach toward how we teach our children. San Pablo has recently implemented a Community Schools education model for their youth, which was done in collaboration with the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Community Schools are a nationally recognized strategy that combines strong academic instruction with an array of vital supports and services for both students and their families.
In May of 2017, the San Pablo City Council approved a full scale-up of the San Pablo Community Schools Initiative, dedicating more than $600,000 in funding to support personnel and program services to all six San Pablo schools. At the same time, the council also passed a resolution to join the Beacon National Network, thus strengthening the connection and coordination with the national Community Schools movement.
Beacon Centers are based on a 25-year-old model for community-school partnerships. Currently they only exist in Denver, Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco (including San Pablo). They operate year-round programs which include during school, after school, and in the summer. These centers are supported by a citywide intermediary office that provides technical assistance and capacity building; they’re housed in schools, and each school has its own Beacon Director. “It’s built heavily on collaboration and teamwork here,” said Diana Baires, Beacon Director at Lake Elementary School. “We’re working on supporting adults here so that we can better support kids and their families.”
For 20 years the San Francisco Beacon Initiative has been growing steadily, and San Pablo will be working closely with them as their own program evolves. The San Pablo Community Schools Initiative has been developing since late 2011. By joining up with Beacon, they’ll have access to an entire network of national Beacon leaders for sharing practice and learning tools that will take their Community Schools to the next level.
Beacons are a model designed by the Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute of Educational Leadership. By working with the youth, their families, and the community in tandem, Beacon schools strive for multi-level impact. Today, Beacons across the country serve more than 180,000 children, youth and adults.
Designed to stay true to their local community with the ability to adapt for serving the specific needs of their immediate Beacon population, Beacon Community Schools do all share a few core characteristics. One requirement is that they’re to be led by community organizations and are to be based in schools or public housing facilities. They must use a youth development approach, build a strategy for interagency collaboration, programming and partnership, support a broad set of outcomes for youth, families, and communities, and so on.
When the City of San Pablo was first adopting the Beacon Community School model, their Community Services Coordinator engaged in a four-month project to develop stakeholder interest and ensure that the services will meet the needs of all of their schools’ children. What they found was that the Community Schools model works. They found that schools and partners were actually requesting increased implementation support, and onsite teams were requesting additional cross-site learning and collaboration. This immediate success prompted the city to move forward.
If you’d like to learn more about Beacon and the Community Schools model, you can visit the national website at communityschools.com. For a closer look at San Pablo’s youth services you can head to sanpabloca.gov/893. And for some details on what the San Francisco Beacon Initiative has been able to accomplish over the last 20 years, which may show some insight for what San Pablo can look forward to as their programs continue, head to sfbeacon.org.