The Story Behind the Success of a Community School
Testimony presented by Rick Amato, principal, Broughal Middle School, Bethlehem Area School District
Good morning. My name is Rick Amato, and I have the honor of serving as the Principal of Broughal Middle in the Bethlehem Area School District. Today, I am here to share the story of how a small urban middle school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania has changed the way a school traditionally supports it students. A “community school model approach” extends the school’s reach beyond its walls to the whole community. Our mission is simple: we are “a community school where each member achieves their full potential by experiencing a personalized education which empowers them to belong, feel valued, and become successful leaders that thrive and enhance the flavor of the South Side.”
Broughal Middle School is a Title I, secondary, urban school located in heart of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with a current student enrollment of about 580 students in grades six through eight. According to the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile (2017), 70% identify as Hispanic, about 14% identify as White, 11% identify as Black, about 4% identify as Multiracial, a little over 1% identify as Asian and less than 1% identify as American Indian/Alaskan and Native Hawaiian. Ninety-two percent of students are considered to be economically disadvantaged, about 15% are identified as English Language Learners, 27% receive Special Education services and 3% are identified as Gifted (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2017). Typically in a given year, Broughal has a 30% transiency rate, which means by the end of the school year 174 out of 580 students will come and go; this is about the total number of students in one grade level.
Broughal was identified as a community school in partnership with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. The local United Way initiative implements a whole child approach by integrating support of students’ basic needs, family-school partnerships, engaging curriculum and instruction, school and neighborhood safety, positive youth development programming, and successful school transitions (United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, 2016).
In order to effectively implement a model, a community-based organization employs a community school coordinator to focus on implementing and guiding the development of the community school model at the school site. For Broughal, Lehigh University is the community-based organization that employs our community school coordinator, Mrs. Alicia Creazzo. She works in partnership with myself to ensure the alignment of the building’s operating principles with the tenets of the community school model. Alignment and integration is expected in the form of a strategic plan that identifies the key priorities of the building as well as strategies for achieving the state goal in each outcome area.
Upon being appointed the principal of Broughal in February 2016, in partnership with the United Way, Lehigh University, Just Born Quality Confections, St. Luke’s University Health Network, community members, Broughal staff, and the Bethlehem Area School District, a “Community School Action Plan” was developed to align the school goals, Title 1 goals, and the district’s goals to one common “Community School Plan.”
The Broughal administrative team conducted an internal assessment of the building’s operations as well as any resources and supports connected to the community school model. Overarching themes were identified and synthesized into the following four key priority areas: (1) increasing students’ math and reading proficiency with a focus on the growth standard, (2) reducing student absenteeism, (3) developing positive culture and climate, and (4) meeting students’ basic needs.
A Brief Overview of Data: Broughal Community School Key Priority Areas
- Improve Students’ Reading and Math Proficiency:
- Focus on the GROWTH
- Percent of students who achieve the Standard for PA Academic Growth
- Focus on the GROWTH
- Expected to at least maintain the achievement level of a group of students
- Due to the community school model, Broughal has seen positive gains in its reading academic data since the implementation of the intervention. The Reading Proficiency Indicator table shows both reading growth index and PSSA proficiency data over the past three years.
|Reading Proficiency Indicators|
| % Proficient or Advanced
- Data-driven Decision Making
- Reduce Student Absenteeism: Hispanic Center Empowerment Program, School-wide/Grade-level specific goals and incentives
- Improve Positive Student Behavior/Positive Culture & Climate: PBIS/VIP, Restorative Practices, Student Leadership, Staff Climate and Culture, Staff Leadership, Afterschool Programming, Trauma Sensitivity Training, and Cultural Proficiencies
- Meet Student’s Basic Needs: Backpack Pals, Community Voices, IU Resolve, Clothing Closet, Hispanic Center, St. Luke’s
Four days before Thanksgiving vacation, a female student’s mother came into our school with two grocery bags containing all the belongings that she could manage to obtain before being evicted from her apartment. After welcoming her into our school, we sat in my office, and she cried in my arms. Through the community school connections, we worked with the Hispanic Center, local shelters, and the faculty at Broughal to secure a hotel room for the mother for the next three days. A few days later the mother and children were moved to a woman’s shelter. During that time, it was discovered that the mother had an addiction problem and the children were later taken into custody by the county. From November to June, a 6-month time span, the student slept in 6 different beds with various foster families and shelters. We – the school as a whole – became the caring, stable adult for this young lady during the absence of her mother. We utilized the St. Luke’s University Health Network health and dental vans to provide medical support to the student. The onsite clothing closet allowed us to clothe the student. The in-house counseling service allowed the student to receive the proper mental health services, while continuing her education at Broughal Middle School. She was also enrolled in the homework help program through Lehigh University, providing her with additional academic supports. This plan was implemented until her mother was able to care for her again.
Stories like this are one of many that happen day in and day out at Broughal Middle School. It is through the Community School model that we are able to be the caring stable adults that can support our children academically, socially, and emotionally to thrive and enhance the flavor of the South Side of Bethlehem.