Design Principle 5: Serve as a Center of the Community

Pattern 5.0: Integrate School into the Fabric of the Community
Locate schools within the community, providing the opportunity to integrate the school into the community fabric, close to resources such as museums, libraries, and recreational facilities, and well connected to public transportation services and pedestrian and cycling routes. Make the school a place where students and staff care about are knowledgeable of and support the surrounding community. Extend the school into the community through service and outreach programs. Develop the school in partnership with local community assets, sharing the communities many learning resources rather than building large comprehensive, isolated schools with their own auditoriums, gymnasiums, and multimedia.

Pattern 5.1: Shared Spaces Equals Shared Benefits
Schools and community services should pool their physical and human resources to help save money, encourage community interaction, and ensure maximum use of space. Charter schools have a unique opportunity to embrace the surrounding community through shared use facilities, programs and resources. Unlike their traditional public school counterparts, charters have some flexibility to create programs and policies to accommodate their goals. Sharing construction costs with other organizations or businesses that will be using the space as well can augment smaller budgets for new facilities or renovations. Joint use of spaces can occur with performance halls, theaters, auditorium, recreational facilities, libraries, media centers, parks, and dining establishments. Through shared space use, the school can create revenue, save expenses, and connect students with local businesses and public enterprises.

Pattern 5.2: Be “More than Just a School”
Make the school a community center in the minds of the citizens. Encourage community use by creating a welcoming, comfortable, and enjoyable place for people of all ages to congregate. Provide spaces, times, and programs for community access to education as well as places to be used for receptions, meetings, and athletic events. Health and family life services and continuing education opportunities can all be accessible through one building, while the focus of every activity is on the promotion of children’s learning. Extend the school day so that the facilities are open very early in the morning and late into the evening. Historically schools have served as anchors in their communities. Reaffirming that relationship between school and the community is an essential characteristic of public charter schools.

Pattern 5.3: Be a Landmark and Signature Element in the Community
It is necessary to celebrate the public nature of schools within the community and encourage them to standout as centers and gathering places for the town or city. It is important to promote the distinctive nature of a charter school when designing it as a landmark. Allow the signature element to be easily defined and associated with the school’s theme - environmental sciences, technology, art, etc. All schools have something that is unique and the architecture should showcase this.

Pattern 5.4: Build Community Through Partnerships and Funding
Foster community and business partnerships for resources and funding. Find partnerships for charter schools with corporations, government agencies, private foundations, nonprofit foundations, private donors, parent organizations, or other community partnerships. Plan according to unique charter school demographics and community culture, capitalizing on key factors in need of funding. Factors may include students with specific characteristics (special education, English language learners, low-income families), programs, services, and learning resources to provide for students (transportation and after-school programs), innovations and experimental enhancements to curricula and educational programs, and capital investments in school facilities and equipment. Create sources of revenue that benefit the school financially and academically.

Pattern 5.5: Extend Learning Outside School into the Community
Internship programs and community service learning opportunities are essential to the healthy development of students and their community. These internship programs build confidence and self worth in students and can change lives as students become well prepared for the challenges of college and the real world they’re after. When the community gets involved in students’ education good things happen. The community and job place also benefit from the student’s emerging learning, knowledge, and research.

Pattern 5.6: “See Parents as Partners”
Activate strong parent involvement. Work closely with parents so that they develop a real understanding for the need for schools to change and then become active partners in the process. Parent involvement in charter schools must go beyond typical voluntary efforts of the school PTA. Parents are increasingly involved in developing charter schools from scratch. Maintaining their active involvement through the life of the school is critical to its success. Recommendations include providing a special parent resource room, allowing parents to meet other parents at parent night, providing meeting or waiting rooms for parents waiting on children, and celebrating students’ work and activities through display and presentation areas easily seen by parents.

Pattern 5.7: Think Physical Fitness Beyond Sports
Develop physical fitness programs in school that students can continue to utilize throughout their life. The lack of a sustainable physical fitness regimen is not only a health problem, but it also has direct ramifications on the academic performance of students, their rate of absenteeism, and their mental health and overall well-being. Such programs run the gamut of activities from dance and aerobics to yoga, walking, hiking, and bike riding (the last two in areas where outside terrains permit). Indoor activities can include jogging on indoor tracks, recreational swimming, and weight training. When student “gyms” begin to look more like adult physical fitness centers, they are more likely to develop healthy, lifelong habits.