After just three short months in operation, a unique Hamilton County community school program at Red Bank High School appears to have a promising future.
Started in order to better provide a holistic education for Red Bank students, the community school is designed as a supplemental, after-school resource that can be expanded to better engage with students outside of the classroom. The goal is to provide them with real-world skills, extracurricular activities and, more simply, a space to just be teenagers.
The focus of the program is Red Bank's newly renovated student "hub" in the center of the school, which is intended to be a common, multipurpose space for students to relax or do homework. So far, dozens have taken advantage of the space and staff have engaged with almost 60 kids a day during the busiest times.
On Wednesday afternoon, the community school's steering committee, made up of school administrators, teachers and community leaders, walked into the hub to meet and walked past a handful of students laughing and lounging on beanbags in a corner of the room.
During the meeting, the community school coordinator, Stephanie Hayes, walked the committee through some news of the last three months, announcing that the YMCA had partnered with the program by providing healthy snacks to students, as well as offering a new fitness class that would be held twice a week.
"We're not asking for everybody to be quiet. They're quiet in the classroom all day," Hayes said. "This should be a place where they can come and talk."
Last year's Chattanooga 2.0 report identified community schools as necessary to provide "wraparound supports and community services to help address the barriers that many students face outside of the classroom, so that they can be successful in the classroom."
As it is structured now, the "hub" and the community school program overall are being propelled and shaped largely by the needs of students at Red Bank, who have used it variously as a place to be with their friends, do homework or even dip their toes into the small business world.
Hayes said several of the students came to her with a desire to open a concession stand for the hub, and since it was an opportunity to teach students about financial literacy and life beyond high school, they made it happen. The stand will be run by those same students and is starting next week.
The community school was made possible thanks to a partnership with the Northside Neighborhood House, an educational nonprofit which has allowed coordinators there to set up the frame of the program with plenty of help from faculty and staff.
"Just having that partnership has been huge. Then we can plug in our end to support it and do what we can," said Elaine Harper, the principal of Red Bank.
At the steering committee meeting, the teachers, nonprofit workers and even a couple mothers of students discussed what could be incorporated from community partners in the future to give students a leg up through programs they actually find enjoyable outside of class.
Ideas ranged from basic adult skills seminars to a pizza party with members of the local business community.
"You have to make it engaging because [high-schoolers] have a lot of other options with their time," Harper said.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.