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Collaborating Beyond the School

The School as a Community Hub - Katoomba North Public School

School context

Katoomba North Public School is a K-6 school and caters for 155 students, of which 15% are Indigenous. The suburb is physically separated from the main service and shopping centre of the town and there is also a shortage of local services and facilities.


In 2003 the principal initiated discussions with the South West Area Health Service, the Blue Mountains City Council and Kindergarten Union Services about establishing the school as a community centre.  The aim for the school was to build the capacity of parents and the community so that both could become partners in supporting the learning and social development of students at the school.


A Community Room was established and a community-based organisation called Connect Child and Family Services Inc. (Connect) was engaged to co-ordinate services and activities there. The Community Room developed into a community hub, providing a drop-in place for parents, a meeting space for community groups, and facilities to run a range of activities and programs. The hub provides information on a wide range of health, welfare, early childhood and adult education services and can put people in touch with these services if necessary.


Key parental engagement strategies 

The school has a broad range of parental engagement activities that are provided as part of the school program or held in the community hub. The focus for parental engagement has been on parental and community capacity building to support children’s learning and social and personal development.

The Community Room is a separate building in the school grounds. It runs many activities for parents, community members and students, including:

  • Play and Chat playgroup sessions, which aim to improve young children’s development by increasing community connectedness and strengthening the service system that supports the wellbeing of families with young children
  • music lessons for preschoolers, community garden activities, and parent art and craft sessions
  • TAFE courses – gardening, teacher aide training, budgeting
  • parent information sessions run by teachers – Positive Behaviour for Learning, How Children Learn to Read, Numeracy K-6, Internet Web-Based Technology
  • playgroups through which children and their families have the opportunity to experience the school environment gradually before starting Kindergarten
  • a homework centre, which is an activity of the Leura Uniting Church and provides homework support for school children in Years 3-6 one or two afternoons each school week, using volunteers.

The school provides training for parents to enable them to support their children at home and school.  Parents and caregivers have participated in teacher's aide training delivered by TAFE to enable them to support teachers in the classroom. There are also opportunities for parents to undertake learning in a diverse range of areas such as gardening, parenting, computer skills, financial management, healthy cooking and photography.

The school has an ‘open classroom’ policy, with parents welcomed and encouraged to visit classrooms to observe or to assist in classroom activities. Parents often take younger siblings into classrooms with them. Parents are also encouraged to participate in all activities at the school.

Progress/outcomes

The school, through its Community Room initiative, has been successful in developing a greater sense of engagement and support among many parents and the local community.  It has also been successful in establishing itself as a community centre.

The teachers’ aide training, the Play and Chat sessions and the playgroups appear to have led to greater parental participation in their children’s learning.

The range of other activities and services provided through the Community Room have supported parents and contributed to the personal growth of those who have participated.

The Community Room has helped create a sense of community and developed partnerships between families, the school and the community. There has been increased participation in prior-to-school programs, children are more familiar with school when starting, and children with special needs are able to be identified earlier.

Critical success factors

Several factors have allowed the school to take on this large amount of work. Funding for setting up the Community Room and the involvement of other agencies has been appreciated by the community.  The appointment of a full-time Community Room co-ordinator has given the project stability and continuity of effort.

School leadership has been consistent in the development of the ‘school as a community centre’ concept.  The school community liaison officer has played a key role in linking parents and the community to the Community Room and its activities.

Issues – barriers, sustainability, resourcing

While some parents are strongly engaged in supporting learning, the situation more broadly across the school is one of parental involvement in the school rather than engagement in support of children’s learning.

The challenge for the school is to harness the parental capacity and the sense of community and support that has developed, redirecting it to children’s learning more broadly.  To do this, the school leadership recognises the need to support more parents in their role as the first educator.

As the operation of the Community Room has evolved with a dedicated co-ordinator, the school has shared its role as lead agency in many parental engagement activities with other community organisations. This has been a very positive arrangement.

Conclusion

The Community Room initiative has led to a diverse range of programs and learning opportunities being delivered to parents and the community. It has also led to the school being recognised as a community centre.

The Community Room is a major contributor to building parental and community capacity and developing a sense of community, which can be harnessed to support children’s learning and development.

The infrastructure exists for the development of full partnerships between the school, families and the community in children’s learning and development.
 

Other Resources

http://smarterschools.gov.au/media/Pages/VICExtendedSchoolHubs.aspx

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