Collaboration and Caring: UCLA’s Research-Driven Community Schools

Second convening of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling showcased innovative practices, research, and the University's commitment to equity and access in public education.

The second annual convening of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling took place on March 7-8, providing a look at the University’s research-driven schools and its partnership with LAUSD and local Los Angeles communities. The convening included discussions on the power of partnerships with universities, the relationship between research and practice, and featured site visits to the University’s two UCLA Community School campuses, and a reception at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center. More than 100 attendees from 39 organizations nationwide included teachers, school administrators, researchers, and local and national civic leaders. The convening, funded by the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania, deepened participants’ understanding of how partnerships can bring together diverse individuals and groups to collectively support students, families, and their communities.

Jeff La Haie, assistant principal, RFK UCLA Community School, led a panel conversation on “Community Schooling Rooted in Relationships” in the library at the historic RFK Community Schools campus. Courtesy of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling.

The two-day event began with site visits to RFK UCLA Community School in the Koreatown-Pico-Union area, and Mann UCLA Community School in South L.A. The visits provided attendees with a look at university-district partnerships in action. Students at each site shared a view of their campuses, followed by panel discussions on support programs for students and families. Small group discussions were led by RFK UCLA Community School teachers, students, and researchers, including topics such as “RFK and UCLA-CS Immigrant Family Legal Clinic,” “Preparing the Next Generation of Community School Teachers,” “College Support Beyond High School: Building an Alumni Network,” and “Nurturing Play: Providing Powerful Learning Opportunities for Students.” Site visit speakers included Leyda Garcia, RFK UCLA Community School principal; Jeff La Haie and Queena Kim, assistant principals, RFK UCLA Community School; Orlando Johnson, principal, Mann UCLA Community School; Carla Estes, assistant principal, Mann UCLA Community School; Christine Shen, director, UCLA Community Schools Initiative; and Nina Rabin, director, Immigrant Family Legal Clinic, UCLA School of Law.

Jose Munoz, director of the National Coalition of Community Schools (fourth from left), spoke with students at Mann UCLA Community School during a site visit to the South LA campus. Courtesy of the Center for Community Schooling

A reception at the end of Day 1 of the Convening was held at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center. The reception celebrated Research-Practice Partnerships, and featured the strong partnerships between LAUSD and the community schools at Mann and RFK, and between Stanford University and Oakland Unified School District. Milbrey McLaughlin, founding director of the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, led the evening’s panel discussion which focused on how Research-Practice Partnerships can advance community schooling. Representatives from Stanford, RFK UCLA Community School, LAUSD, and the Oakland Unified School District shared the potential and the challenges of these partnerships. Panelist Kim noted that the last ten years of work at the site did much to deepen research practice partnerships and created a real research identity for the school. She also noted however, that the real proof is in the way that students at the school recognize the value of the school’s commitment to research and equity-driven education.

“Even though we didn’t go through a course, or tell them exactly what a community school is based on research or other scholarly articles, they definitely know what that means in terms of their own experience as a student,” said Kim, a UCLA alumna and a founding teacher at RFK UCLA Community School. “I think that shows the ability of a school to respond to so many different kinds of students, whether they’re an immigrant student or a student who grew up here or a student who struggles with mental health.”

The second day of the convening highlighted the critical role teachers play in community schools. Karen Hunter Quartz, founding director of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling, shared the impact of collaboration between the schools’ teachers and UCLA graduate students to study issues and to find meaningful solutions in their classrooms. The keynote address was delivered by Jason Torres-Rangel, RFK UCLA Community School teacher, who spoke on the importance of community schools in the current climate of Los Angeles public education. Breakout sessions included topics such as the partnership between The Preuss School, Gompers Preparatory Academy, and UC San Diego, and the CAL Prep Partnership between schools and UC Berkeley. A presentation on “Local, State, and National Networks That Support Community Schooling,” included directors and faculty from the National Coalition for Community Schools, Opportunity Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA, and USC discussing the importance of networks and policies in contributing to the success of community schools.

UCLA researchers – and alumni – have pioneered community schooling in Los Angeles. (L-R) Karen Hunter Quartz, director, UCLA Center for Community Schooling; Jody Priselac, Associate Dean for Community Programs, UCLA GSE&IS (’99, Ed.D.); Leyda Garcia, principal, RFK UCLA Community School (’07, Principal Leadership Institute); Queena Kim, assistant principal, RFK UCLA Community School (’02, B.A., Teacher Education Program; ’08, M.Ed., ELP); and Rebekah Kang, coordinator and founding teacher, RFK UCLA Community School. Courtesy of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling

In a closing plenary titled, “How Community Schools Can Strengthen Public Schooling and Civic Life in Los Angeles,” Steve Zimmer, senior education advisor for the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, emphasized the importance of relationships and connection in educating youth. The former president of the LAUSD Board shared his experiences as a teacher and counselor, and encouraged increasing points of contact between school staff, students, and families to build greater connections.

Finally, José Muñoz, director of the National Coalition for Community Schools, led a conversation with students from Mann UCLA Community School and RFK UCLA Community School on their experiences, observations, and advice for those who create and lead community schooling. The students spoke about how they feel cared for as individuals by their teachers and school staff beyond academic guidance. Students from Mann UCLA Community School discussed the transition they observed as their school built its partnerships with UCLA and other local organizations to provide a range of supports. They also spoke about starting student clubs to engage their peers in their interests and about learning content related to their potential career paths.

Quartz said that feedback at the convening from local and national communities and stakeholders was very positive.

“In some of the evaluations, people talked about how much they were inspired by the schools’ work,” she said. “They liked the small group [discussions] on topics like the legal clinic and another on teacher education and literacy. The student-led tours of the school sites are always the highlight. Kathy Hayes, head of the LAUSD Committee for External Research Review, commented that the work of UCLA Community Schools around research provides a great example for the district and others who want to take up this work.”

Leyda Garcia, principal of RFK UCLA Community School (third from left), sat in on a small group discussion by Sidronio Jacobo, a graduate student researcher at UCLA’s Department of Education (fourth from right); Victoria Amador, an alumni fellow currently completing here senior year at CSU Los Angeles; and Aurora Martinez, UCLA-CS college counselor, on “College Support Beyond High School: Building an Alumni Network.”

Kim said that the strong bonds between school staff and students at RFK UCLA Community School results in, “… interaction that’s very authentic within the classroom and also out of the classroom, which I think speaks to the relationships they have – the way that the adults specifically help and support them. This interaction with the students has informed the professionals and teachers to even shape programs and shape how they might want to direct their work.”

“I think it just brings everyone back to the mission of our school,” she said. “It started as a dream, as a hope and possibility of something more real, more tangible. We gathered people who had a common passion and even a [common] philosophy of schooling. Our partnership with UCLA and also our collaborative structures, allows us to work on all aspects of the school.

“Throughout these ten years, we’ve been able to advance our mission and vision and make it more than tangible,” said Kim. “We’ve been able to do that even through the challenges of the issues that our students bring, challenges of funding and time. I think we’ve been able to work through all these things, and I feel like we always learn that there is more that we can learn.”

The UCLA Center for Community Schooling will co-sponsor the 2020 Community Schools National Forum, to take place in Los Angeles next year, to be presented by the Coalition for Community Schools of the Institute for Educational Leadership

For a complete list of presenters, organizations represented, and more information about the UCLA Center for Community Schooling, visit this link.

With reporting by Anna Clark


Above: A small group discussion on “Expanding Bilingual Education 7-12 Grades through Social Justice, Interdisciplinary Projects” was one of several examples of UCLA’s innovative work at RFK UCLA Community School, as highlighted during the second convening of the UCLA Center for Community Schooling.