Giving Compass' Take:

• Othering & Belonging Institute highlights the importance of Puerto Rico schools in the larger community tapestry and why closing schools has broad impacts on community wellbeing. 

• What role can you play in supporting low-income communities in Puerto Rico?  

• Read about civic renewal in Puerto Rico

Schools in Puerto Rico serve as polling stations during elections, shelters during hurricanes, and centers for emergency response during public health crises. These essential functions demonstrate that schools represent a community core for their neighborhoods. Understanding the effects of school closures requires a recognition of the wide-reaching meaning and web of relationships that schools hold. Far more than just buildings for protection from the elements during educational instruction, schools play essential roles in the social, economic, and cultural life of a community. In her study on the subject, Ariel Bierbaum identified numerous types of meaning and value of schools (figure 4). In the economic sphere, schools influence housing values, residents’ future earnings, current income, district solvency, and the local tax base. In socio-spatial terms, schools affect the safe passage of children and families, offer social and political capital, and function as anchor institutions for community groups, businesses, and other networks. The symbolic and cultural value of schools includes their role as sites that define the identity of a place, people’s sense of belonging, and a place to raise and address community concerns.

The term “community school” is used to reflect this broader role schools can have in Puerto Rico. Ana María García Blanco, Executive Director of Instituto Nueva Escuela, which supports Montessori public schools in Puerto Rico, explains: “A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone—all day, every day, evenings and weekends.” The community school brings together a range of actors who are vital for community well-being—of which student academic success and the student-teacher relationship is one part. In the case of Puerto Rico, “community school” is a term that better captures the historic relationship between schools and the communities they serve.

The unique characteristics of a community school advance the resilience of entire communities by providing services tailored for different parts of the communities they serve. Therefore, cutting off or dismantling a community school can exact a steep toll on communities.

Community school closures disrupt a unique sense of belonging that schools create. A closure can rupture intergenerational shared experiences, reduce parental and community involvement both at school and with their children’s education, and disperse the influence of the community in the governance of their school. These impacts alienate communities and erode belonging, described by Bonnie Benard as “a basic human need, a fundamental motivation, sufficient to drive behaviors and perceptions. [Feeling of belonging] leads to positive gains such as happiness, elation, achievement, and optimal functioning…Its importance cannot be stressed enough.”

Read the full article about schools in Puerto Rico at Othering & Belonging Institute.