Lanier High Wins Federal Grant

Full Service Community Schools grant will provide social services and continuing education

Extra help is coming to kids in need in North-Central Austin, as the U.S. Depart­ment of Education has awarded local nonprofit Austin Voices for Education and Youth $2.5 million for a new family support center at Lanier High School.

The Full Service Community Schools grant – $500,000 a year for five years – is designed to extend what is called the community schooling model into the area just south of Rundberg Lane. The basic principle is that, by using school campuses as the hub to provide social services, continuing education, and advice on issues like housing to parents, kids will have fewer home stresses and perform better in school.

Austin Voices already runs family support centers at five AISD campuses (Burnet, Dobie, and Webb middle schools, and LBJ and Reagan high), with a licensed social worker at each center, and the new cash will add Lanier to that list, in addition to providing support at Cook and Wooldridge elemen­taries, and supplementing the existing Bur­net facility. Austin Voices Executive Director Allen Weeks called Lanier "a wonderful school, but it has a lot of struggling families. It's the lowest-income part of the city, with a lot of refugee students, so lots and lots of needs to be met." The grant will help them fill those well-established gaps: "In addition to what AISD already offers, we'll be able to add employment classes, more advanced computer classes, and offer a broader range of [English as a second language] classes."

AISD Trustee Ann Teich, whose district covers these campuses, said she was "thrilled with the U.S. Department of Ed. giving us that kind of investment." A Lanier grad herself, she sees the grant complementing the ongoing Restore Rund­berg initiative and a recent $330,000 training grant from the Kellogg Foundation, both designed to help parents of struggling kids "navigate systems that they may not be familiar with."

As with Teich, the initiative strikes a personal note for Education Austin President Ken Zarifis. A 12-year teaching veteran of Burnet classrooms, he called the campus "my heart" and the grant "exactly what these kids need," as well as a vote of support for community schools. He said, "We must be doing something good here in Austin. We have defied the reformer's logic that it takes someone from the outside to fix our problems."

So far, lawmakers and policymakers in Texas have been slow to get behind the concept of community schools, so federal and private grants are the lifeblood of such initiatives. Back in 2010, Austin Voices was part of a consortium of nonprofits that unsuccessfully applied for a one-off $500,000 Federal Promise Neighborhoods Grant (see "Promises, Promises," Aug. 6, 2010) for campuses in the St. John/Coronado Hills area. By contrast, Weeks called Full Service Community Schools "a very sustainable stream of funding. ... It's a healthy amount of money to do good work, but it's not something that, when the five years finishes, you can't find ways to sustain the same level."

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Richard Whittaker, Sept. 17, 2010

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Full Service Community Schools grant, U.S. Department of Education, Austin Voices for Education and Youth, Lanier High School, Allen Weeks, Education Austin, Ken Zarifis, AISD

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