Below is an excerpt from a recent report conducted within the Summits network of schools by the University of Notre Dame ACE Network.
Respondents were asked to report what their school represents to their community. Because of the eloquence of the responses, a series of quotes from the focus groups are presented below to illustrate the importance of the schools to the participants. These strong feelings were common across all of the schools.
The school “represents the future.”
Because of the school, “the way they (students) used to dream in their past is totally different nowadays.”
The school “transforms our children.”
“The school is the strength of the society.”
“The school is a development agent for the community.”
The school “shines the community.”
The school “makes our children dream differently.”
The school is “a daily bread that feeds our kids brain and a pride for their future.”
“If there is no school, there is no future for our kids, either.”
The school is “educating people who solve the problems of the country and the community.”
The school “means hope for us and our children.”
The school is “like a treasure that was hidden somewhere and this community is the one who found it.”
Summits schools were particularly credited with improving student attitudes and behaviors in addition to performing the academic functions of increasing knowledge and career preparation. They were referred to as "bank accounts" that are helping communities to prepare for their futures through investments in children. Students at the schools were thought to be more likely to avoid jail, pregnancy, and delinquency and to get good jobs that would benefit the overall community. Even if the students left to finish school elsewhere, it was thought they would be likely to return and work in the area.
The schools also benefit the communities by employing teachers who would otherwise be without jobs and income. This is indicative of the sense that the schools are key players in a virtuous cycle for communities. By benefiting students, families, teachers, and other stakeholders, those individuals develop the skills and stability to help others, thereby perpetuating an ongoing process of community development.
Coupled with these strong feelings about the importance of the schools, participants expressed a deep sense of ownership of the schools. This reinforces the centrality of the schools to the communities, and is also a credit to the manner in which the schools were developed and the methods used to generate community engagement. Because of the sense that the schools belong to the communities, the teachers, parents, and other focus group participants all expressed willingness to volunteer to help the schools in any way that they could. Many described ways in which they have helped in the past or on an ongoing basis—such as assisting with construction, providing materials, hauling water and food, setting up events, and cleaning. And they appeared eager to assist in the future as new needs arise. They reported attending meetings whenever the principal organized them to remain current on what is happening in the school and to help as needed. In addition, they all desired the formation of school committees in order to facilitate participation in decision making, maintain awareness of the schools’ needs, and identify new opportunities to provide assistance. Parents’ and teachers’ reports of their roles in making decisions for the schools did vary across the schools, indicating that some principals welcomed advice and additional perspectives more than others.