Parents, students and school officials voiced their support for legislation that would keep District schools open after-hours to provide medical services and learning opportunities to the surrounding low-income communities.
The Community Schools Incentive Amendment Act of 2011, written by D.C. Councilman Michael Brown, D-at large, would partner five public schools with community organizations to provide mental health services, tutoring, adult classes in nutrition and literacy, and more initiatives to combat the effects of poverty.
"For a community school, that might mean feeding a child's family or clothing them," Ralph Belk, a deputy executive director for the National Center for Children and Families, told the D.C. Council. "It might mean keeping that child's parents from getting evicted."
At the J.C. Nalle Community School in Ward 7 -- a partnership among Belk's organization, D.C. Public Schools and the Freddie Mac Foundation -- 78 percent of students in the extended-day program increased their math or reading scores on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams last year.
"It seemed like everyone saw something special in me," said Brianna Hooks, a former Nalle student and current seventh-grader at Sousa Middle School who says she loved the after-hours cooking classes and field trips -- even an excursion to Costa Rica.
Funding for the initiative is up in the air: Council members said they are exploring local, federal and private dollars to fund the $1 million annual cost of operating five community schools.
Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders said his members support the bill, as long as it doesn't pull money from their already cash-strapped classrooms -- a fear Brown said was unfounded.
Testimony from both the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which would have 180 days to create a process of awarding the $200,000 grants, and DCPS indicated they support the legislation.
Emily Bourn, a parent at Ward 7's Kelly Miller Middle School and a product of DCPS, said she also supported the creation of community schools.
"I spent a large part of my time [growing up] on Naylor Road, over by Minnesota Avenue, and I know there is a great need throughout the city," Bourn said. "I don't know what has taken us so long."