At Brooklyn Center High School, a couple of years ago, a small room was transformed into an optometrist’s examining room. On the first day it opened in January 2013, 18 students were seen, and 15 of them needed glasses. At last, those who needed eyewear had access to it.
The eye doctor who donates a few hours per month of his time to seeing patients, free of charge, at Brooklyn Center High School is part of that school’s full service approach to education. The eye doctor has his own space across the hall from a dental clinic, which shares space with a medical clinic, which extends out to a mental health clinic. This model of comprehensive wellness—designed to help boost the overall success of the school—embraces students, staff, and families.
I learned firsthand about the full-service community school model that Brooklyn Center has adopted while on a listening tour of the high school. The listening tour was arranged by the newly emerging Coalition for Quality Public Schools, that I am part of through ACT for Education. The session was designed to educate more people, and especially candidates running for a seat on the Minneapolis School Board, about the potential of the full-service model.
Brooklyn Center Community Schools Director Patrice Howard led the tour, and while doing so she made it clear that her district adopted the full-service model because of its former superintendent, Keith Lester. Lester, she says, saw all of the barriers students face on the road to personal and academic success, and looked for solutions.
He had the vision to pursue the full-service community school model, and the wisdom to make its implementation district policy. That way, Howard said, Lester was doing his part to ensure that a whole child, whole family approach to education would continue beyond his years as superintendent (Lester retired in 2013).
Many of us on the tour sat agog as we listened to students, staff, and a parent (who was still volunteering at the school, even though her only child had graduated) extol the virtues of Brooklyn Center High School. Wow. In a state where the student to counselor ratio is abominable, the presence of onsite mental health services, during the critical middle and high school years, seems like a sure form of mercy, and a necessary step on the path to truly preparing a student for his or her future.
At one point during the tour, someone asked how Howard knows whether or not the full service community school model is working. Is there any data, she was asked, that would make other districts want to replicate Brooklyn Center’s approach? Well, sure, Howard answered. There is some data available, and more coming each year. But, she noted, “Our true success is in our stories.”
Call her up. Go hear the stories for yourself. Then, let’s work together to give students access to all the resources, from eyeglasses to homework help, that they need.
(Video by Katie Lescarbeau, Minnesota 2020 Policy Associate)