Developing a Community School
The Developing a Community School Project uses a neighborhood-based holistic approach to educate young people at Prairieview Elementary School. This Battle Creek project engages the entire community, including local faith, healthcare and business organizations, to both support and celebrate school and student successes.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Prarieview Elementary School Principal Don Hoaglin
: Neighborhood-wide holistic approach is the unique approach that makes us different and successful in reaching kids in our community. Instead of operating as an island, the school needs to operate as a partner with surrounding neighborhood organizations, local services and residents to better bring about healthy change. We look at Prairieview School as a community hub for services – there is a mobile health clinic, portable dentistry, family wraparound services (family counseling), nursing and social work.
Instead of operating as an island, the school needs to operate as a partner with surrounding neighborhood organizations, local services and residents to better bring about healthy change.
These are all vital components – not only of a school but of a community at large. Why segment them off from a community rather than meld them into the community at large? The strength of collaboration beyond district boundaries is key. As a community in Battle Creek, we share many of the same problems and issues.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
Large participation in the [second annual] Wellness Fair and Community Picnic in May was a culmination of the fruits of many labors. This event shines the light on the value of celebration of something as positive as learning about healthy lifestyles and nutrition. It helped deepen the connections between the school and the community we serve. It shines a different light to normal school activities. The fair and picnic involves people outside the normal school setting – local faith, service, business and outside organizations who came together to celebrate with children.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Fostering communication between all parties involved. Bringing the key players to the same table — there is a mobile health clinic, portable dentistry, family wraparound services (family counseling), nursing and social work — and getting them to understand that with proper communication and cooperation we can all work effectively toward a common goal. Along these lines, it has been important to avoid replicating previous data collection and programs that have existed; there is no sense covering territory that has been dealt with before. We are forging new partnerships to achieve new goals and we have had to teach people involved that overcoming hurdles needs to come from within ourselves and not to point fingers. Hurdles – we have a sense of barriers that people face — we know the “what’s” but not the “why’s” and “how’s.”
Finally, the sheer challenge of meeting individual families where they are for what they need is daunting. Each case is unique in its own way.
What really differentiates this program?
This program is truly different in that the neighborhood approach fills the cracks that many students fall through. As opposed This program is truly different in that the neighborhood approach fills the cracks that many students fall through.
to a student-centered approach – unless you address the health of the neighborhood first. And then there’s collaboration with three other schools across district boundaries that face many of the same issues. Just bringing the four principals together was a daunting task that called for commitment on all parts.
What are the keys to success for your program?
We’ve touched on some of these, but it has been the enabling of neighborhood residents and community members to come together to advocate for change from within. Also, the identifying of untapped assets in the neighborhood and community to fill cracks. Getting the crack filler into the cracks sounds simple, but it often isn’t. And finally, forming a staff that is committed to providing all students with the same access to success. They model and promote the importance of healthy lifestyles and nutrition and actively seek ways to assist families.
What are people in your program most inspired by?
I draw a great deal of satisfaction by the positive feedback I’m hearing about the program throughout the community; this is true for all people involved in any successful program. Hearing people say what an awesome place this is for families. To see that all are valued. It really shows that we are going in the right direction.