OGDEN -- As community leaders, teachers and administrators from the Ogden School District sat this week in a conference on community schools, a clear vision of the possible future of Ogden schools started to form.
National Community Schools leader Abe Fernandez spoke to the group Wednesday morning and showed how the dream of building a community around a school is starting to become a reality in Ogden School District.
Although many attendees still had questions, some smiled as they thought of how it could really come together.
Fernandez, deputy director for the National Center for Community Schools for the Children's Aid Society, spoke to school leaders last year as Mount Ogden Junior High was starting its first year of becoming a community school.
Other schools in the district also operate successful community schools, including Mound Fort and James Madison. Odyssey is starting to offer more community
programs, and the district will focus more of its efforts at that location, said district spokeswoman Donna Corby.
Reed Richards, chairman of Ogden United, which is a large group of community leaders, businesses, educators and nonprofits working for the betterment of schools in the Ogden area, said he left the conference feeling very positive about the future of Ogden schools and developing community relations.
He and several others went to a conference in New York City last fall but thought it would be more effective to have Fernandez and Hedy Chang -- director of Attendance Works, a national organization that assists educators deal with the issue of chronic absenteeism -- speak to a large group in Ogden.
Fernandez discussed how schools in large American cities were transformed by community schools with large, sweeping programs. Corby said that's not necessarily the goal for every school in the district, but the goal is for each school to be a haven for its community, with different needs being met for that area.
"Not every school can have a Midtown clinic," said Lisa Nichols, executive director of the Midtown Community Health Center. The clinic at James Madison Elementary School recorded 6,700 kids being seen last year. Nichols said it would take a lot of money to have that kind of clinic in every school, so the task they face is transporting students.
"In many of our schools we have random acts of programming ... We are doing the programming and we don't really know why," Fernandez said. That's one reason Ogden United is trying to get involved to learn how those programs can be run most efficiently. Many times, the responsibility to figure it out -- which can be overwhelming -- is placed on school principals.
Rich West, director of the YMCA for Northern Utah, said the goal is to not make that a barrier for principals and teachers, but to provide outside resources so teachers are more free to teach and principals are more free to do their jobs.
Fernandez said it is very important to have an outside facilitator to do just that. West agrees and hopes the YMCA can be one of the puzzle pieces to make the community school model work. The goal is to have a YMCA presence in all schools in Ogden School District and in several Weber School District schools as well.
"We are trying to be a lead partner," West said.
Fernandez told the Ogden crowd not to feel overwhelmed knowing what other schools have done. Everything doesn't have to be figured out right away.
"Just because we think we can't figure it out today doesn't mean we don't need to continually talk about it," he said.
Richards said meetings with the entire Ogden United board are held every other month, and individual committees meet on their own. "There are some exciting things happening," he said as he referenced a districtwide tutoring program, a parenting university and the partnerships with RAMP and YMCA for free summer programs throughout the city.
Fernandez advised the group about the lag in summer for kids from poor families. He showed a graphic that indicated that students who are at or below poverty level have little to no academic progression in the summer months. This is not because they aren't constantly doing math and English, but because they are not having any kind of enriching or cultural activities like some of their peers. Richards and West hope the addition of the summer programs being offered will ease this problem in Ogden. They want schools to become more of a year-round resource for the community.
"Our schools are a huge capital asset, but they are open from 8 to 3 ... We have to remove the legitimate barriers to open the doors to the community."