By LaKeshia Myers
As an educator, I have had the opportunity to teach and lead in many different school settings. While my area of expertise has been primarily focused in the secondary grades, one experience I relished was working in a community school. Stepping foot into Auer Avenue School was not something I did willingly. After all, I was a high school teacher and administrator, so why on earth was I being assigned to an elementary school? I did not know it at the time, but my experience at Auer Avenue would be one of the best experiences in my education career. I had the opportunity to understand what the community school model was and how its purpose was to educate and aid the entire family.
According to the Coalition for Community Schools, a community school is, “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources with an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, leadership, and community engagement”. Such was the case at Auer Avenue. The school not only offered a traditional academic program for students in the Amani neighborhood, but there were also strategic partnerships in place to help sustain and edify entire families. Feeding America hosts a monthly food pantry at the school, where parents have the opportunity to attend job skills training programs. Basic computer courses are offered for those who live in the community and may need assistance. There is also a special relationship for after school care sponsored by the Children’s Outing Association (COA) that is located adjacent to the school campus.
Vital programs like the food pantry that are offered at the school are often paired with other events like math and literacy nights which boosted parental involvement and attendance. This increase in parental involvement has shown an increase in overall academic achievement at the school.
Auer Avenue Principal, Dr. Zannetta Walker, and the staff have all invested in the community school model. The staff, on their own, host special events for students, like the annual holiday bazaar where students have the ability to “shop” (students earn tickets to shop with) for holiday gifts for family and friends. There is also the fall book tasting—an event modeled after a wine tasting—where students are able to sample various books and then choose one to add to their personal libraries.
The school is a hub for the Amani community because it offers essential services for all that live there. The staff are invested in the outcomes of the students and they work diligently to provide necessary experiences and services to the families of the students they serve. I am so very thankful for my elementary experience having been at Auer Avenue Community School, it was an experience that was both rewarding and enlightening. I salute Milwaukee Public Schools for its foresight in utilizing the community school model and I hope more people will visit our city’s community schools and invest in them as well.