What is the mission of a school?
By Emily Mann
In a recent piece on NPR’s Marketplace, the Oyler School was profiled for its innovative education model. Rather than rely on the historic prototype of what a school should be, the Oyler School is carving out its own image of 21st century school success: and it looks wonderful. Rather than focus on 6 hours of educational time, the school has opened its doors and expanded its educational philosophy to children as young as 6 weeks and as old as 22. Focusing on the whole child, this school as community learning center, brings community supports from social welfare agencies and other non-profits directly onto the school campus. The school becomes a central service provider that forms the foundations for educational success—rooted in child and family health and wellness. This wrap-around education model, similar to other examples, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone or the Citizen School, supports the premise that children need more than academics to really succeed in life, and that these basic needs are best met early in the life course.
Like many other schools, in many other communities, the Oyler School aims to educate children who are coming into school with accumulated ecological risk. And while the negative effects from early trauma in childhood have been well established, there is less clarity about the methods and models to prevent such trauma in the first place. While the school seems like the natural place to develop a comprehensive focus on health and wellness, I have concerns about a systematic or scaled-up approach to the community school, without the proper resources to support this ideal mission. A shift to identify schools as holistic service providers within the community may create additional burdens on already understaffed and under-resourced schools.
While the goals and ideals of the community learning center acknowledge the impacts of environmental risk, there should be clear supports to ensure that the focus of change extends from developing children ready for school, to include communities ready for uplift. To me, this means that schools and communities need to work together to promote change from the bottom-up and the top-down. It is a reminder that social justice is embedded within educational justice, and that to promote great students, they must return from their school day to great communities.
Emily Mann is an Associate Academic Specialist in the Human Services Program at Northeastern University. She received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a Master’s of Science in Social Work, and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied the effects of early intervention on delinquency prevention. Dr. Mann spent two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and was also a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Mann's teaching and research focuses on educational interventions and academic and social functioning.