Planning for a Community School Starts in Pueblo

CEA Fellow Robert Donovan leads a forum to help Pueblo residents draw up plans for a community school

CEA Fellow brings Pueblo residents together to draw plans for a community school

After the school day ended at Risley Middle in east Pueblo, Dec. 13, about 75 community members gathered in the school’s media center to discuss the way forward for students and their families. The East Side Community Forum was coordinated and led by eighth grade teacher Robert Donovan. He envisions reinventing Risley as a ‘community school’ where the education of children is the beginning piece of community support.

“We want to build lasting partnerships to create a hub for the surrounding community, looking to the school and nearby facilities as that hub so that students, their families and the community are receiving the essential services they need to be healthy, happy and successful,” said Donovan.

The forum participants divided into ten groups for a gallery walk of topics related to how Risley could become that central community hub. At each stop, a group had four minutes to discuss a question and write their responses, adding to the responses left by previous groups. After all the groups had rotated through all the stations, spokespeople were selected to report on the community ideas the questions had uncovered. Some of the spokespeople were Donovan’s own students. “I was surprised by the willingness of students to stand up and have their voices heard. They rocked it – they took the lead and the initiative to represent their groups. It was nice seeing my students from my class represented here amongst the community.”

Donovan is a member of Pueblo Education Association and a CEA Ambassador Fellow. In the Fellowship, about 20 members across Colorado are learning how to expand their knowledge and ability to influence educational policy and professional practice. Donovan has chosen the community school issue as he seeks to amplify educator voice and lead civic engagement on a project that impacts quality public education in his community. CEA Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert, PEA President Suzanne Ethredge, and CEA staff members attended the forum at Risley to support Donovan’s effort.

“I always had this conviction about the school and its place in the community, and for the CEA Ambassador Fellowship to support me in going in this direction, provide me with the necessary information and resources I needed, was most helpful,” said Donovan.

The National Education Association defines ‘Community School’ as the “center of the community – open all day, every day, to everyone – that brings together academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement under one roof.” Donovan plans to hold these forums monthly to create the partnerships necessary to make the community school concept a reality in Pueblo. He was encouraged by the large turnout for this first meeting, including State Representative Donald Valdez and Pueblo City Schools Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso among the community participants.

“Tonight’s forum tells me that people care and that people are ready for a change. Things are currently not working the way the community would like them to work,” Donovan observed. “People here are willing to stand up and take initiative in order to see their young ones and see their families be successful. This event made me really proud to be a teacher here on the east side and made me more enthusiastic to go forward with the implementation of a community school.”

CEA Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert (left) listens to group discussion on transforming Pueblo's Risley Middle into a community school