It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Want to know how to really appreciate teachers?

Besides paying them what they deserve, of course.

How about making sure their students have the support and resources they need in and out of school? And what about making sure public school families have what they need too?

That’s why we need more public schools to become “community schools.”

The community school strategy is all about fulfilling not only the educational needs of students but also the basic needs of families.

Here’s a great example: Gibsonton Elementary outside of Tampa, Florida, improved standardized test scores between 2017-18 and 2018-19 by responding to issues its students were facing.

The biggest issue? Based on outreach to students, parents, business leaders, nonprofits, and others in the area: a low rate of student attendance.

The area surrounding the school has been left behind in the rapid growth of the Tampa metro area. Most of Gibsonton’s students are Hispanic (56.4 percent), and nearly all are economically disadvantaged (94.1 percent).

So the school expanded its on-campus food offerings, gave away backpacks full of school supplies, and installed a campus washer-dryer. It even organized an effort to have the county install new streetlights around campus to increase student safety.

“Today I helped a family find a home,” Gibsonton’s community school coordinator Catherine Gilmore told journalist Jeff Bryant. “In November and December [2020], we helped families deal with evictions and utilities.”

That’s how we appreciate teachers.

We don’t post nice things about them on social media and then turn around and blame them for the educational outcomes of students who struggle to even show up to school.

To be sure, community schools aren’t some radical, pie-in-the-sky idea. They’re popping up all across the country, from Los Angeles to West Virginia. President Biden is proposing $443 million for community schools in his education budget, 15 times the current level of federal spending.

“Community school funds … make sure we’re connecting our students into the classroom and our families back into the classroom where they belong,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said this week on MSBNC’s Morning Joe.

And community schools work. They improve student educational outcomes, while reducing racial and economic achievement gaps.

What’s pie-in-the-sky is trying the same-old market-based reforms that have never worked.

Sure, privately operated charter schools and private school voucher programs have lifted up some students. But only by pushing down the rest, particularly those from low-income communities and communities of color.

If we really want to appreciate teachers, let’s empower students, families, and communities to have say at the public school in their neighborhood. Let’s invest in community schools.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.

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