Where the Neighborhood Hangs Out: Schools as Community

Full-service schools provide not only education and medical, dental, and psychological services but also a positive place to hang out.

Full-service schools provide not only education and medical, dental, and psychological services but also a positive place to hang out.
Where the Neighborhood Hangs Out
Credit: Max Seabaugh

"If our kids are not home in the evening," parent Lidia Aguasanta says, "they're usually at school in some supervised activity." But it's not just the children in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood who find a reason to be at Intermediate School (IS) 218 after hours. One parent says that, whether for recreation, career training, community-development activities, or health and social services, "It's where the neighborhood hangs out."

Indeed, IS 218 has become a hub of life for the neighborhood. "People say it's hard to get parents involved in their children's schooling because they have so many pressing problems," says Rosa Agosto, community schools director for the Children's Aid Society, who is based at the school. "We make that involvement possible by providing the support parents need at school."

The on-site health clinic, for example, means families don't have to contend with unfamiliarity, long waits, and anonymity at city hospitals. From 7 A.M. to 10 P.M. every weekday, the clinic offers medical exams, immunizations, and dental services for a nominal fee. A full-time social worker makes sure community members get other services they need. If a student gets sick or has personal problems, professional help is just down the hall, not across town. "We can help children here at the school as soon as they need it," Agosto says.

The school has a "Family Room," furnished with sofas, a television, and a constant flow of coffee, where parents can deepen their understanding and involvement not only in their children's education, but also in community issues. A sense of ownership prevails, according to Ariel Briones, a recent graduate who comes back to volunteer in the school library: "The adults and older kids here taught us to contribute back to our community -- not just live in it."

This article originally published on 7/1/1997

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