The first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was Jane Addams, who founded Chicago's Hull House in 1889, the first settlement house in the United States. Modeled on Toynbee Hall in London, Hull House provided a range of what now would be called economic, social and educational services to immigrant communities.
In 1889, Hull House was located on the near West Side of Chicago where thousands of very poor immigrants from southern and Eastern Europe were crowded into rundown, barely habitable tenements.
The immigrants spoke no English and followed customs and norms that appeared alien to often unsympathetic "native born" Americans; that were, ironically, themselves the children of earlier generations of immigrants.
Hull House "faculty" was composed of young college educated women (volunteers) who worked to assist the immigrants to learn English and also served to mediate between the newcomers and the skeptical natives. Education was a major part of the Hull House program where immigrants could find "...classes in history, art, domestic activities such as sewing," as well as concerts and lectures on current issues. Hull House provided space for clubs for both children and adults.
What was remarkable about Hull House and its sister settlement houses around the United States was the concept that its "reform model" was an organic one that recognized the close relationship between economic, social, and educational factors in contrast to the reform models that directed efforts at a single cause. Its aim was to build on the strengths of the immigrants rather than to "better" them.
In contrast, the twenty-first century school reform has largely been based on the "fix one thing at a time" model. For example, the charter school reform is based on changing school governance, while the standards movement improved accountability, and so on. The difficulty of the "fix one thing at a time" for education is that "education" isn't a single thing and that learning is several steps up in Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Even more serious are the social problems endemic to poor communities and neighborhoods such as untreated asthma, lack of dental care, as well as the "emotional trauma, which mar the lives of children in hardscrabble neighborhoods." (Kirk, 2016)
A modern application of the Hull House-settlement house model as holistic reform in education is the "community school." A community school combines school with a set of partnerships with community organizations that can create an educational ecosystem for the children, parents, and teachers of the school. Like the Hull House, the community school becomes a hub around which community activities revolve.
David L. Kirk reports that such community schools are found in 150 school districts across the country, from "Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Lincoln, Nebraska." (Kirk, 2016)
The community school theory of action is to align the "assets brought by the students, families, teachers, and the community around a common goal--improving the success of young people." (CCS, 2016)
The model is an alternative to the more common "reform by budget line" in which money drives activities focused narrowly on problems that are really multi-faceted.
The principal of the Wolfe Street Academy, a community school in Baltimore, vividly described the paradox of thinking of the school as an institution that is separate from the social and economic conditions of its students. Parents with financial resources would never dream of sending their children to school with unmet health needs. However, as Mark Gaither, the Wolfe Street Academy's principal, put it, "You wouldn't think it's acceptable to send a child to school without having glasses or dental care, but it's OK for that child to take a reading or math test. But that's the situation poor parents face." (Kirk, 2016)
New York City has invested heavily in the development of its own community schools with 130 such schools in operation serving more than 51,000 students.
Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies for grades 9-12 is one of these that is located in the Bronx, one of the poorest communities in New York City.
The school serves students beginning in ninth grade some of who arrive at school reading at a third-grade level. 85% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 25% of the students are classified as special needs students.
Two years ago when the school opened, nearly 60% of the students missed ten or more school days. That percentage is down to 41% while the graduation rate has gone from 59% to 67%.
Parents who enroll their students in Morris Academy find themselves "enrolled" themselves. The parent section of the Morris Academy website is as full as the student section. "We speak your language," says one page in the languages found among the students. The community school model for students goes well-beyond the school day, with after school and summer programs, clubs and activities, that not only keep kids off the streets but also provide the range of services that "better-off families can afford to buy," the enrichment activities and experiences that will give Morris students a boost for their academic success. (Kirk, 2016)
While the Morris Academy is only two years old, research on community schools across the country suggest that improvements will continue depending upon how faithful the school adheres to the community school model.
An evaluation of 602 school programs that follow the community school model found that "the model increased grades and graduation rates--but only in schools that followed it with a high degree of fidelity," with close grained assessments of students' diverse needs and high quality supports to match those needs." (Kirk, 2016)
It's not "or"; it's "and": The community and its school.
Kirk, David (2016). “To Teach A Child, First Give Him Glasses.” New York Times, August 6, 2016.
CCC, Coalition for Community Schools Website. The Website has links to research on the community school model.
Dr. John Holton
Dr. John Holton joined the S²TEM Centers SC in July of 2013, as a research associate with an emphasis on the STEM literature including state and local STEM plans from around the nation.