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The Caring School Community Initiative

We’re entering the second and final year of the Caring School Community Initiative. This grant, made possible by funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, helps districts implement Caring School Community (CSC) by providing ongoing professional development at no charge. Eight districts participated in the program in its first year.

CSC is the cornerstone of DSC’s work. It can be transformational to schools, staffs, families, and students. Those of you who know DSC for our literacy work might be interested to learn that CSC focuses on improving students’ entire school experience—in the classroom, across grade levels, on the playground and beyond. It extends to families and to the school community at large. We enhance the social work you’ve seen in a more academic setting to impact the entire school day and address issues that might arise in any classroom, such as bullying, teasing, getting ready for a substitute teacher, and more. CSC works to foster in students a stronger sense of connectedness to each other and to their school. It strengthens relationships and teaches critical-thinking skills like building consensus, developing empathy, and teaching others.

Schools and districts are drawn to CSC for a variety of reasons. Some are addressing the needs they’ve seen in student surveys about connectedness to school, bullying, and connection to adults (see the California Healthy Kids Survey, administered by WestEd as one example). Some see CSC as a response to the behavior side of Response to Intervention (RtI) and a means to create a more comprehensive, preventative plan. Some are trying to increase Social Emotional Learning (CASEL is a great organization supporting this work. Download their Safe and Sound Guide and see what they say about Caring School Community on p. 37). Still other districts see CSC as a way to augment their character education or counseling grants. Some find our work through the Title IV, Safe and Drug Free School lens (California Healthy Kids Resource Center highlights such programs).

Others believe Caring School Community answers a larger call. President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan have called for a dramatic decrease in student drop-outs and an increase in graduation rates. We know that addressing such an intractable problem can’t be done in high school alone; we lose students before they even reach high school. We can’t start in middle school, when some have already tuned out. Research shows that CSC helps increase student connectedness to school and community values starting in elementary school. This is yet another reason some districts are looking to CSC.

What other factors might lead schools and districts to address their climate issues? I’m interested in your thoughts on how the CSC initiative might support them.

Ginger Cook is the manager of state and district partnerships at Center for the Collaborative Classroom. Follow Ginger on Twitter at @gingerccook.

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