Because learning does not happen in isolation, community schools focus on what students and families in their communities genuinely need to succeed — like consistent nutritious meals, access to health care, targeted tutoring, counseling, access to stable housing or other support services before, during, after school and even into the summer.
The Kent School Services Network (KSSN) aims to reduce barriers to education in Kent County, Michigan, home of WKKF priority place Grand Rapids. By serving as a bridge between families and community resources, KSSN can ensure students have access to everything they need for healthy development and achievement in schools.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to live up to their full potential. For many children from underrepresented backgrounds, education systems are often one of the few accessible systems for them to make strides toward manifesting their dreams into reality,” said Dr. Keenan King, KSSN executive director. “KSSN is deeply proud and immensely honored to work in partnership with public school districts to transform educational spaces using the Community School Strategy while cultivating community-centered learning environments. Collaborative leadership practices allow KSSN to convene students, families, clinical agencies, and other community-based organizations, all with the shared vision of improving the quality of life and access to care for our students. We believe that student achievement and success is not only a responsibility of educators, it is also the responsibility of the community.”
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between schools and community resources. Using schools as hubs, KSSN community schools bring together stakeholders, including nonprofits, businesses, and faith-based organizations, to offer a range of support and opportunities for children, youth, families, and communities. In other words, community school initiatives like KSSN bring entities together into schools to provide support to those who need it.
The network currently partners with seven districts in Kent County. KSSN cultivates strong partnerships that bring wraparound services as part of a “community schools” strategy that transforms local schools into hubs where adults, parents and caregivers work directly and in dignity with an on-site coordinator to find vital resources and support for the health and well-being of children and their families.
In 2022-23, KSSN served 21,050 students across Kent County, in urban, rural and suburban public school districts, reaching into over 40 schools in Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Grandville, Sparta, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee and Godwin Heights.
KSSN first launched as a pilot initiative in 2006. Because the community schools strategy was effective and demonstrated results, in 2012 state leaders announced it would be used as a model for its Pathways to Potential program to support students in schools across Michigan.
Key findings from the evaluation of the three-year pilot demonstrated that:
- All KSSN schools exhibited improvements in their standardized test scores (MEAP) with an increased percentage of students in each grade who met or exceeded grade-level standards in reading and math;
- Chronic absenteeism rates (absent 10% to 19.9% of all possible school days) declined from the first year of data collection to the last year in half of the KSSN schools;
- Extreme chronic absenteeism (absent 20% or more of all possible school days) decreased in five of the eight KSSN schools over the evaluation period;
- All schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) during the 2008-2009 school year. AYP is the amount of annual achievement growth to be expected by students in a particular school, district or state in the U.S. federal accountability system, No Child Left Behind.
“At this moment when school districts are forced to make difficult financial and resource decisions while students and families are demonstrating increased social-emotional, health, and basic needs, I believe partners like KSSN are able to bridge the gap and co-create conditions and solutions that position schools to see more of their students perform and thrive,” King said.