School-University Partnerships: A Model for Education Reform in Peoria

by Jana Hunzicker, Julie Schifeling, Joan L. Sattler and Grenita Lathan

The Bradley PDS Partnership and Peoria Full Service Community Schools initiative are distinguishing the region as a model for educational reform.

How to “reform” public education has been a focus of discussion for many years at the local, state and national levels. Often, the simplest, most effective ideas are not at the forefront of discussion. In Peoria, a school-university partnership between Bradley University, Peoria Public School District 150 and St. Mark’s School offers a model of collaboration which provides support for educators, students and families through the Bradley Professional Development Schools (PDS) Partnership and the Peoria Full Service Community Schools (PFSCS) initiative.

School-University Partnerships

While school-university partnerships are a relatively new concept, the community schools ideology dates back over 100 years. It reemerged in the early 1980s in response to concerns about the serious challenges, such as violence, drugs and poverty, facing inner-city school students. In an article published in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy in 2005, Ronald Lee summarized the full-service community schools movement as providing stability and resources to help not only students, but also students’ families. In this way, school becomes the community center for learning as well as a central resource to keep students in school and focused on learning.

In a 1992 article published in Educational Researcher, Ann Lieberman wrote, “Our challenge is to create a community that educates all of us, those in the university and those in the schools, a community that expands our relationships with one another, and in so doing, our knowledge and our effectiveness.” In response, as community agencies, local businesses and corporations began supporting P-12 schools through volunteerism, donations and sponsorships, universities like Bradley not only established professional development schools to provide support and prepare future professionals to serve effectively in urban educational settings, but chose to assume the role of lead agency for Peoria’s community schools efforts.

The Bradley PDS Partnership

The mission of Bradley University’s College of Education and Health Sciences is to prepare leaders within the human service professions. To this end, the college engages undergraduate and graduate students through innovative teaching, scholarship, and interdisciplinary, community-based partnerships. Such a dynamic learning environment prepares Bradley graduates in teacher education, counseling, educational leadership, human service administration, nursing, health science and physical therapy, and family and consumer sciences to serve in a diverse and global society, enhance human resources and foster lifelong learning.

The Bradley PDS partnership, which has been in existence since 1995, is one avenue for realizing this mission. Funded by the William T. Kemper Foundation - Commerce Bank Trustee and Bradley’s College of Education and Health Sciences, the partnership promotes academic and professional development for P-12 students, pre-professionals, practitioners and professors. The partnership is guided by five specific goals:

  1. Support and improve student learning and achievement
  2. Prepare professionals in education and health sciences
  3. Provide lifelong learning experiences and leadership opportunities
  4. Promote best practices in teaching, learning and leadership through professional development, action research and scholarship
  5. Support the health and well-being of students, their families and the professionals who work with them.

The Bradley PDS Partnership currently serves eight sites in Peoria: the Glen Oak and Harrison community learning centers, Manual Academy, Roosevelt Magnet School, St. Mark’s School, Trewyn School, Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Center and Whittier Primary. Coordinated by three faculty members in Bradley’s College of Education and Health Sciences, the partnership supports participating schools in the completion of special projects and initiatives, including teacher professional development and student academic support. For example, during the 2011-2012 academic year, teacher education students conducted reading assessments and interventions for first-grade students at Whittier, one faculty member led a reflective and interactive peer-observation process for new teachers at Manual, dietetic interns organized a healthy foods fair for students and families at Valeska Hinton, and a school counseling intern coordinated and implemented a diversity fair for students and families at St. Mark’s.

The Bradley PDS Partnership also provides valuable opportunities for Bradley students and faculty in terms of professional preparation, community service and scholarship in and around urban educational settings. During the 2011-2012 academic year, 162 Bradley undergraduate and graduate students in teacher education, school counseling, family and consumer sciences, and nursing completed clinical experiences at Bradley PDS sites. Moreover, since 1995, over 25 referred presentations about projects and initiatives at Bradley’s PDS sites have been delivered at professional conferences, including the National Association for Professional Development Schools’ annual conference. Dr. Joan L. Sattler, dean of Bradley’s College of Education and Health Sciences, states, “The PDS partnership has enriched the work of faculty and students in the schools and the college.” Three of Bradley’s PDS sites—Harrison, Manual and Trewyn—are also full service community schools.

Peoria Full Service Community Schools

Recently, the Peoria Full Service Community Schools (PFSCS) initiative significantly expanded Bradley’s school-university partnerships. In 2010, Bradley University’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service joined the College of Education and Health Sciences as lead agency for the initiative, focusing on Harrison, Manual and Trewyn schools.

What is a community school? It’s the heart or hub of a community designed to prepare students holistically—not just academically—for success in life by providing programs and services that address mental, physical and emotional health. A community school creates a culture of shared responsibility for the health and well-being of students, families and the community by engaging adults through educational programs that meet their needs and allow them to best support their children’s academic success.

The four pillars of a full service community school include healthy minds and bodies, academic development, community engagement and family engagement. Hence, a fully implemented community school organizes programs, supports and services along these four pillars, using needs-assessment data to ensure that what is offered meets the specific needs and interests of students, families and community members. Examples of such programs, supports and services include on-site medical or legal services, early childhood screenings, summer reading initiatives, after school tutoring and parent education programs.

Originating during the 2006-2007 school year, PFSCS has made impressive progress in the past two years. A 2010 Heart of Illinois United Way grant supported the coordination of in-school mental health programs, and donations from over 20 local businesses and community agencies provided for the creation of Peoria’s first mobile parent resource center (MPRC). A former school bus was redesigned for parent outreach activities such as supply distribution, workshops and information-sharing, and a 2011 Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation grant allowed for the hiring, training and support of full-time resource coordinators for each PFSCS site as well as the MPRC.

To date, Peoria’s community partners include (but are not limited to): Methodist Medical Center, Heart of Illinois United Way, Bradley University, Peoria Park District, Illinois Central College, South Side Mission, Caterpillar Inc., Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, FamilyCore, Children’s Home, The Center for Prevention of Abuse and Human Service Center. These community partners—the backbone of PFSCS—provide services, programming, volunteers and in-kind donations to support the students and families of Harrison, Manual and Trewyn. Partners at the state and national levels, including the Illinois Federation for Community Schools, Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation and the Eisenhower Foundation, provide funding, standards for best practices, professional development, grant writing assistance, advocacy and opportunities for networking.

Future Directions for Partnerships

Research over the past two decades has documented that schooluniversity partnerships benefit both schools and universities. Specifically, they allow pre-professionals, practitioners and professors to better understand one another’s work, create opportunities for innovation and support student learning. Without question, strengthening Peoria’s schools also strengthens the Peoria community. As Bradley’s school-university partnerships continue to develop, many possibilities are on the horizon. The Bradley PDS Partnership plans to increase the number of pre-professionals completing clinical experiences at Bradley PDS sites, connect more Bradley courses to students and teachers at these sites through interactive projects and assignments, and offer more professional development opportunities for teachers and professors.

Thanks to the dedicated partnership between Bradley University and Peoria Public School District 150, a plan to sustain the resource coordinator positions beyond the term of the initial grant is already in place. Moreover, the Federation for Community Schools in Chicago is creating a certification program for resource coordinators, the first of its kind in the nation. Once accredited, Peoria’s resource coordinators will be among the first in the country to earn certification through the program.

Working in collaboration with the community, the Bradley PDS Partnership and Peoria Full Service Community Schools are preparing future professionals to serve effectively in urban educational settings and promoting the academic success, health and well-being of educators, students and families. There is no doubt: Bradley’s school-university partnerships are distinguishing Peoria as a model for educational reform. iBi

To learn more about the Bradley PDS Partnership or Peoria Full Service Community Schools, visit bradley.edu/academic/ colleges/ehs/centers. For general information about professional development schools, visit napds.org. For general information about full-service community schools, visit ilcommunityschools.org.

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