Building Stronger Communities Through Community Schools

Building Stronger Communities Through Community Schools: A Case Study of Marsing, Idaho

In a world where education is not merely about textbooks and classrooms, but about holistic community development, the Community School Strategy stands out as a beacon of hope. Recently, the Marsing School District showcased the power of Community Schools, hosting Idaho education leaders and providing them with a firsthand look at how they are transforming lives. This article delves into the success story of Marsing, demonstrating how the convergence of school staff, community members, and government officials can create a nurturing environment that fosters academic success and overall well-being.

At the heart of Marsing's educational approach lies the Community School Strategy, a framework that recognizes the interdependence of education and community development. Spearheaded in our state by the Idaho Coalition for Community Schools (ICCS), this model emphasizes collaboration among various stakeholders to address the multifaceted needs of students and their families. Family and student input are paramount in these efforts, as this model centers around determining what needs exist within a community and giving them the power to address those needs. "Nothing about them without them" is the motto of community school advocates, who support this hyper-local strategy. With a recent infusion of a $46 million grant, the Coalition is poised to expand the Community Schools in rural areas across Idaho.

One of the cornerstones of Marsing's success is its investment in early childhood education. By operating three preschools catering to 3 and 4-year-olds, the district has witnessed a remarkable surge in kindergarten literacy rates, with recent tests showing 83% of students reading at grade level. They have also witnessed the impact this program has on staff retention. School district employees are able to bring their children to preschool, allowing them to avoid the burden of finding childcare. This proactive approach not only prepares children for academic success, but also lays the foundation for lifelong learning.

Recognizing the importance of mental health in academic achievement, Marsing has prioritized the well-being of its students. With multiple counselors on staff, the district has succeeded in reducing rates of depression among students from a staggering 60% to a commendable 24%. Through counseling services and a supportive environment, students feel empowered to navigate the challenges they face, both in and out of the classroom. In addition to academic and emotional support, Marsing extends its commitment to community well-being through a dedicated health clinic. By providing accessible healthcare services, the district not only meets the physical needs of its residents but also strengthens the fabric of the community. This holistic approach to education ensures that students are healthy, happy, and ready to learn.

Marsing’s Superintendent, Norm Stewart, says “Marsing's success with the Community School Strategy demonstrates the transformative power of merging education with community engagement, ensuring every child has the opportunity to thrive through our collective efforts.” By fostering collaboration among educators, community members, and policymakers, the district has created a thriving ecosystem. As the Coalition continues to invest in expanding Community Schools in rural areas, the lessons learned from Marsing demonstrate what is possible with community collaboration.