Collaboration allows school district to strengthen community partnershipsWhen the Grant Community School Collaborative started in 1997, it was designed to provide after-school and summer enrichment programs for students at the East Hillside school.
When the Grant Community School Collaborative started in 1997, it was designed to provide after-school and summer enrichment programs for students at the East Hillside school.
It has since grown to include family events and programs, such as dinners, student showcases, powwows and health fairs.
Now the Duluth school district and other community groups are looking at ways that Grant’s model can be implemented at all schools throughout the district.
“It would be nice for schools to be more of a community hub,” said Debbie Wagner, coordinator of the district’s homeless youth program, “a place where families can go.”
A grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is allowing the district and three community partners, the United Way of Greater Duluth, the Duluth Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Grant Collaborative, to develop strategies for community partnerships with schools. The groups also intend to create a manual that will serve as a guide for maintaining those partnerships.
The grant provides $75,000 this year, with the possibility of a matching contribution next year. Blue Cross and Blue Shield provided the grant to “address the social determinants of health” in the community.
“Blue Cross and Blue Shield is doing a lot of research that shows a disparity in health outcomes between individuals of lower income and individuals of moderate and higher income,” said Kathy Bogen, executive director of the Grant Collaborative, which is being renamed the Myers-Wilkins School Collaborative to correspond with the school’s new name when it reopens in the fall.
“One of the reasons they’ve found is the level of social connection. We’re creating a way for families to be more connected with the community and resources. Schools can be a place where families feel really comfortable.”
Plans are already being developed to strengthen community partnerships at Laura MacArthur Elementary School, which, like Grant, has a large enrollment of low-income students.
Families and community members are invited to discuss needs at two community forums this month. The family forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, at the school. The community forum will follow at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 30, at City Center West.
Through the forums, the partners will assess needs and develop strategies for integrating community organizations and businesses into the school.
“We’ll use Laura MacArthur as a pilot program for development,” said Krisa Kelbe, community impact director at the United Way. “We’ll see what the community wants for the school and do a community vision assessment.”
The Grant Collaborative will serve as a starting point. Some of Grant’s partners, notably Community Action Duluth, could form partnerships with other schools as well, Bogen said. But each neighborhood has its own needs.
“Duluth, like any other community this size, has neighborhoods with different organizations and businesses,” Bogen said. “These forums are important because we’re a broad community, and the needs are different in different neighborhoods. So we’re thinking that there will be similar pieces, yet there will be specific needs for each pocket of the community.”
The partners say that the grant will have a lasting impact. They’re already working on a manual that will be available for school personnel, parents and community members. The manual will provide directions for forming and maintaining community partnerships.
“We want to take some of what we’ve learned about forming successful collaborations and sharing that with everyone,” Bogen said. “We’ll generalize the strategies and procedures so that other schools find it easier to do.”
Bogen stressed that community partnerships do already exist in every school. Laura MacArthur, for example, already houses the Valley Youth Center. She also pointed to a district-wide “Tomato Man” project, which is being used to promote gardening in all of the district’s schools.
The grant will just provide an opportunity to examine and strengthen those relationships, Bogen said.
“It’s exciting to see more partnerships develop and we’re excited to provide support or information,” she said. “But it’s also a chance to assess those partnerships and make sure we’re getting the outcomes we hope for.”
If you go
The four partners in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield community health grant will host two forums this month to assess partnerships with local organizations and businesses. One forum is for families and the other is for community members.
WHAT: Family Forum
WHEN: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 23
WHERE: Laura MacArthur Elementary School
WHAT: Community Forum
WHEN: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 30
WHERE: City Center West