- Leigh Colburn, former principal of Marietta High School outside of Atlanta, was concerned about her school’s low graduation rate despite rising test scores in 2007, so she began asking students what they needed to succeed. Those answers not only helped her develop a plan that improved her school’s grad rate by 27% over a five-year period, but led to the development of a plan to help other schools do the same, EdSurge reports.
- After developing a seven-step plan to address student needs that she calls the "Centergy Cycle," Colburn became director of her district’s new one-stop Graduate Marietta Student Success Center designed to provide students with support and resources such as a food pantry, clothing closet, laundry room, and on-site mental health and behavioral support.
- In 2017, Colburn also launched the Centergy Project, a consultancy service that works with other districts to help them identify student needs by capturing student voice, finding resources in the community to support those needs, and setting up a sustainable way to meet those needs long-term that is convenient and accessible to families.
As school leaders examine outside issues that may be affecting school performance and dropout rates, they often turn to community data. They look at poverty levels, average income, crime rates and a host of other factors that may be affecting the lives of students. But the best answers will likely come from the students themselves.
As Ainee Shehzad Salim, a teacher in Pakistan, once wrote: “Student voice enables students to be a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem. They gain a sense of belonging with their increased attachment and positive relationships with peers, teachers, school and the broader community. One of the most powerful tools available to influence academic achievement and classroom dynamics is making students feel that they have a stake in their learning.”
The needs of students differ in each community. In some communities, poverty is a significant barrier to learning and can cause inequalities that widen the achievement gap. Healthcare needs and other obstacles can impact school attendance, increasing chronic absenteeism rates that affect student growth. These and other barriers to high school graduation can affect the long-term prospects of students in terms of lower wages and an increased risk of incarceration.
An increasing number of school districts are looking to community school models to not only provide wraparound services to students, but to help families in the community. However, adequately meeting the needs of students begins first by asking students what they really need to succeed and then finding ways to address those needs with the help of community partners.