• Gardner Pilot Academy: A Community Hub School 

    Coordinated and Connected  Out-of-School Program: A Key Element to Success


    Gardner Pilot Academy (GPA)  has created and sustained an innovative model to make educational equity a reality for Boston’s students and families for the over twenty years. Driven by their mission and vision to educate the mind and develop the character of all students in partnership with families and community to ensure all children become socially responsible and achieve academic excellence. GPA is a member of the Coalition for Community Schools - an ecosystem of national, state, and local cross-sector leaders that promote community schools as an equity driven, research-based strategy that provide our young people with access to resources, supports, and opportunities they deserve to advance their hopes and fulfill their social responsibility.


    GPA is located in the heart of Allston, a neighborhood that has experienced an economic revitalization in the past decade, yet in January 2019 the Boston Planning and Development agency published that the poverty rate in Allston is 31.1% which means that nearly 1 out of 3 residents living in Allston are poor.  Poverty impacts child development and health outcomes posing challenges for the academic and holistic development of individual students and can influence the learning environment for the entire school population. 


     GPA functions as a hub to the community as we intentionally address barriers that impact the lives of our scholars and their families. Our student population is diverse serving nearly 77% of our students identify themselves as a person of color, and about 60% speak a language other than English. Also, 75% of our students qualify for other government subsidies.  Our out-of-school programming addresses non-academic barriers associated with poverty that threaten students academic and life success.


    A critical element that differentiates our out-of-school programming is our surround care model which allows for a seamless transition from regular school day to after-school programming. Surround care means that our school-day paraprofessionals lead the learning during after-school hours with the support of a recreational enrichment teacher.  Another essential feature of our program includes our enrollment process that targets our high-needs populations which constitute 84.9% of our entire student body. At GPA, we have also benefited from staff longevity, and two of our lead teachers worked for over 18 years with the YMCA at GPA, others have worked on an average of 5 years.  


    Centhelia James shows commitment to the school since 1992,  first as a parent by entrusting the development of her children to the school, and later by joining the staff team as a lunch monitor.  Now, she is a daytime paraprofessional in a K2 classroom, lead teacher for the K2 after-school class, and the Assistant Director for After School and Summer Program at Gardner Pilot Academy. Based on her experience, Mr.s James feels that “students enrolled in after-school feel more connected to the school and their peers.”  In her role, she sees herself as a connector providing a seamless bridge between the individualized needs of each student both during the school day and after school. She reflects on the impact of the program and acknowledges the importance of the surround care model because “we know what the student struggles are and we communicate with teachers and families and work in partnership to support the students.” 


    During the last two decades, there has been an increase in research on the importance of effective teacher-student relationships (TSRs) for students’ school adjustment. When students have a secure connection with their teachers, they are more comfortable taking risks that enhance learning - tackling challenging tasks, persisting when they run into difficulty, or asking questions when they are confused. Paraprofessionals reinforce the same core values, instructional methods, and positive behavioral intervention support systems.  


    The strengths of the program are evident around relationships, positive classroom management, and alignment with the regular school day. The positive relationships among staff and students,  peer-to-peer, and other team members with families continues to be evidence of the success of our high-quality programming. Our 2017-2018 SAYO results show an average increase of 13.76% in relationship with adults and an increase of 11.70% increase in relationship with peers.  SAYO is an assessment designed to measure program experience, benefits and skill acquisitions based on youth (3rd grade and up) feedback, and teacher and staff observations of each student. 


    Mrs. James passionately explains that this model allows for continuous equitable and individualized supports since we intervene often, and provide the needed supports daily. The students in K2, for instance, may come from different classrooms and when they come together they build a stronger bond”. Mrs. James has ongoing conversations with teachers and families that create the optimal relationship aimed at supporting the whole child.  


    The YMCA/GPA After-school Program has shown effective in several aspects, yet we feel that the trusting relationships between all caregivers of a child are the critical element that drives several of the changes that make our full-service community hub school  model impactful and an instrument to ending the opportunity and achievement gaps in the city of Boston.


    Overview of the Strategy 


    The Community HUB School strategy focuses on academics, enrichment, health and social supports, youth and community development and family engagement with the goal of student success, strong families and healthy communities.  Using schools as hubs, the strategy brings educators, families, and other stakeholders together to offer a range of opportunities, supports, and services to children as well as their families and communities. 


    The School Committee of the Boston Public Schools believes that all children, families and communities should have access to great schools and strong systems of family and community support that prepare them for success in college, career, and citizenship. The goal of the Community HUB School Strategy is to provide opportunities and eliminate barriers to academic success for families and students in our most distressed communities; thus significantly improving the developmental and educational outcomes of children and youth.


    A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Community schools offer a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings, summers and weekends.


    Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. Partners work to achieve these results: Children are ready to enter school; students attend school consistently; students are actively involved in learning and their community; families are increasingly involved with their children's education; schools are engaged with families and communities; students succeed academically; students are healthy - physically, socially, and emotionally; students live and learn in a safe, supportive, and stable environment, and communities are desirable places to live.


    Successful Community Schools support school success by:

    1. Leveraging additional resources to supplement the school’s budget and expand the reach of the Community Schools Coordinator;
    2. Creating sustainability and stability through shared leadership and responsibility;
    3. Providing resources to support additional staffing required at the school;
    4. Offering training and national expertise/resources
    5. Building the capacity of families and community members
    6. Providing resources for needed staffing
    7. Creating partnerships to develop non-academic expertise in areas such as youth development, health/mental health, social work and community development.