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Community Schools Closing Economic Education Gap In Oklahoma

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The school takes care of the whole child, they engage the whole family, and the school becomes the heart of the community. The school takes care of the whole child, they engage the whole family, and the school becomes the heart of the community.
NSU students provide extra help when it comes to reading. NSU students provide extra help when it comes to reading.
Students at Roy Clark Elementary learn African drumming Tuesday. Students at Roy Clark Elementary learn African drumming Tuesday.

Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Green Country educators say a new type of school is bridging the achievement gap between the "have's" and the "have-not's."

They're called community schools and their effort to take care of the bodies and minds of their students is leading to big academic gains.

Nicole Walker says it's not unusual for her to pop into her children's classrooms.

"Stay on your p's and q's, because you know momma's coming," she said.

Walker says typically she's there about five days a week. A complete turnaround for a mother who says she hardly ever went inside her children's school before they attended Roy Clark Elementary in the Union School District.

"Checking on them, making sure everything's right. Making sure they're doing what they're supposed to do," Walker said. "I just feel welcome here. I walk in, it's like my second family."

School leaders say what makes Roy Clark a family is the fact that it's a community school. It goes beyond the classroom to take care of the whole child, meeting their academic, social and physical needs.

The Valdovinos clan can go to the doctor without ever leaving the school grounds.

"Oh it's great," said Gonzalo Valdovinos, a father of five. "The teachers are willing to help. The physicians are willing to help. Any issues that pop-up they're more than willing to go out of their way for you."

And they go beyond traditional school hours and traditional school subjects to engage students and parents. After school, students can learn African drumming, take violin lessons, or get extra help with reading from NSU students.

"It's all just right here and I can take advantage of it for my babies," Nicole Walker said.

A new study by the Oklahoma Center for Educational Policy reveals that fully-implemented community schools are closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their wealthier peers.

Low income students at community schools in the study outscored low-income students in other schools by more than 30 points.

"Our experience over the last few years has proven to us that the development of community schools is truly the game changer," said Union Superintendent Dr. Cathy Burden.

Educators say it takes dedicated principals and teachers, active parents, involved community partners, and substantial public and private funds to make a school a community school.

Union Public Schools and Tulsa Pubilc Schools have a total of 18.

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