When Coyote Creek flooded San Jose area homes back in February, hundreds of California residents were left with significant property damage, lost days at work, and lingering questions about how to rebuild lives and routines swept away by flood waters. For Dulce and her family, help arrived swiftly from her son Cesar’s school community, Rocketship Education. Raising over $60,000 for 30 Rocketship families impacted by the flood, the Rocketship Education community embodied a key phrase of the organizations creed, “I am a Rocketship Rocketeer at home, at school, and in my community.” Funds helped flood-impacted families secure rent deposits, home repairs, and big-ticket items. “My family is so thankful for the support we received from everyone at Rocketship,” Dulce says, adding additional gratitude, “for giving us nights where we could rest, knowing our children were safe and sound.” Dulce’s family’s experience after San Jose flooding, mirrors a growing trend in US education. Schools recognize that the student’s family is potentially the student’s greatest asset in education.
In the ongoing quest to prepare students for an increasing digitalized and globally- integrated economy, many schools are deepening their investments in families. Creating engaged, caring, and collaborative networks of parents, teachers, and students, educational providers like Rocketship Education affirm that healthy, engaged families contribute to best outcomes for students. These “Community Schools” equip students to navigate the complexities, challenges, and opportunities of life in “community,” by modeling the importance of healthy relationships as well as mastery of classroom material. Naturally, when there’s a flood that impacts the school community, the community musters its resources to support the members of the “family” adversely impacted by the rain and rising water.
Rocketship Education is among a growing cohort of charter school organizations that intentionally “tap” the unrealized potential of school/parent relationships. Recognizing that parental engagement is a key factor in student success, schools attuned to parental engagement educate parents about the facets of their child’s curriculum, emphasizing the importance of collaboration between home, school, and community. Engaged parents in turn connect with other parents to stress the benefits of collaboration. The result? An expansive, cohesive community of “partners in education.” As Dulce’s family discovered, communities like the one nourished by Rocketship Education have a supportive reach that extends far beyond the classroom.
In Rocketship’s model, parents name the local school, help to craft the local school’s enrichment program, and develop a core value for the local school that is unique to the school’s local context. Enrichment programs, including offerings in art, music, gardening, and the like, contribute to student formation and complement STEM curricula, affording students additional opportunities to hone critical thinking, teamwork, and creative energies.
Further emphasizing the home-school connection, Rocketship’s teachers and leaders visit their students’ homes before the beginning of the school year to develop strong rapport and to learn more about the environment and family system that shapes the student’s classroom performance. “By changing the dynamic from parent in a teacher’s classroom to teacher in a parent’s house,” says one Rocketship educator, “we are able to develop much deeper ties with our parents that carries through the school year and beyond.”
All Children Have Potential
A cursory look at any set of student performance data highlights the great outcome disparity among schools and school districts in the United States. Wealthy schools and districts typically outperform their peers operating in economically disadvantaged areas. Asserting that the quality of public education in the US is still tied to where you live and how much money your parents make, Rocketship Education and similar organizations intentionally place their charter schools in disadvantaged schools across the nation. The results are impressive. When compared to traditional schools serving student populations like Rocketship Education’s students, Rocketship students substantially outperform peers in ELA and Math testing, often at a grade level higher or more. Boasting a retention rate of nearly 90%, Rocketship schools clearly have robust family support, too, with students staying in the unique charter model because it works.
Obviously, Rocketship Education and similar providers continue to refine a winning formula. When parents are invested in the performance of their students and the design of the learning environment, student success climbs. Similarly, when schools enter homes and neighborhoods to better appreciate their students’ contexts for learning, curricula can be tailored to meet the unique challenges and opportunities built into a particular context. Perhaps the most important outcome of the “community school” model is that others continue to duplicate it in their own educational contexts. Eventually, the impact of economy disparity we continue to encounter in US public education will be nullified by the impacts of strong educational communities that harness the power of families and neighborhoods.