Release Date: Janurary 23, 2014
The U.S. Department of Education announced a five-year, $2.5 million award to Montclair State University to help fund the conversion of two low-performing Orange, New Jersey schools into University-Assisted Full-Service Community Schools (UAFSCS) – the first such schools in New Jersey.
The funds will flow directly into the two schools to support a myriad of much-needed academic and enrichment programs and social and health services that will benefit more than 1,000 families each year.
“This is a great honor for the Orange Public School District,” said Superintendent of Schools Ronald C. Lee. “I am excited about the opportunity that this award presents to Orange and the impact it will have on our community. We are extremely grateful to Montclair State University for supporting and believing in Orange and enabling us to cultivate positive change in the district through such things as a health clinic and other needed resources for our families.”
Since 2008, Congress has invested $30 million in program grants led by partnerships among school districts and community-based organizations. The University was one of nine awardees selected from a pool of 147 applicants nationwide. The nine awardees represent 26 new community schools, including the two Orange, New Jersey schools in a range of urban and rural locales that will add to the 64 schools previously established in 38 states.
“The range of partnerships and communities represented here demonstrates the increasing attention that educators and community leaders are giving toward community schools,” said Martin Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools. “We look forward to working with all awardees to share resources and connect them with our community school leaders as part of nationwide peer learning network.”
In 2009 the Orange Public School District opened their first Full-Service Community School thanks to the generous support of the JP Morgan Chase Foundation. Montclair State University was an active partner from the beginning of this initiative. In 2013, Montclair State launched the Orange Community School Initiative (OCSI) to help empower and engage community members of Orange, New Jersey’s Rosa Parks School and Oakwood Avenue School, both of which are kindergarten through seventh grade schools. Funded with a two-year grant from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation and support from the NJ Commission for National and Community Service, the University and Orange Public School District helped lay the foundation for a university-assisted community school model. Under this innovative model, public schools function as vital neighborhood centers that provide comprehensive educational and social services through local partnerships.
“This is an incredibly transformative process for the schools, communities and the University,” said Bryan Murdock, the grant’s principal investigator and director of Service-Learning and Community Engagement at Montclair State. “Under the community school model, public schools function as neighborhood centers, around which local partnerships can be developed. The goal of a university-assisted community school is to engage community-based organizations along with the resources of the entire University (students, faculty, staff and alumni) to implement and sustain services and initiatives centered on a holistic approach to promoting the well-being and development of children, their families and the wider communities.”
“The Department of Education grant will help us further align University expertise and resources in a broad community engagement strategy to address pressing educational, social and economic needs of the Rosa Parks and Oakwood school communities by uniting community and faith-based organizations, governmental agencies and the business community in common purpose,” said Murdock. “It will also help fund critical programs and services for students and families in the schools.”
Murdock anticipates that over the next five years, 1,145 children and their families each year will be provided with services that support their academic and non-academic needs and aspirations by focusing on family engagement, in-school and after-school support and community partnerships.
The grant will help to fund a variety of community-centered initiatives, including pediatric and dental clinics; mental health services; high-quality early learning programs; remedial education academic and enrichment activities; mentoring and youth development programs; and community service and service-learning programs. It will additionally support special programs that help chronically absent, truant, suspended or expelled students; provide adult education classes, such as high school equivalency, ESL and computer instruction; and supply career counseling services.
Last year, approximately 200 Montclair State students took part in the OCSI initiative, including service-learning students, Bonner Leader AmeriCorps members, student interns, full-time AmeriCorps members from the University’s Environment, Education and Community Outreach, or EECO, program and other student and staff volunteers. University students along with multiple curricular and co-curricular units, divisions, academic departments and programs from across the University will continue to be actively engaged in the project over the next five years.
“It is clear that the OCSI provides an excellent opportunity to engage the University beyond the campus,” noted Murdock. “We hope the Full-Service Community School grant will provide a larger platform to deepen and broaden our interdisciplinary academic and co-curricular engagement while contributing to meaningful community change.”