South Bronx Rising Together: A Story of Collective Impact and Community Schools

By Abe Fernández, Director of Collective Impact, Children’s Aid

For nearly two decades, Children’s Aid has supported the success of South Bronx children and families by providing a wide range of programs, services, and opportunities. While we remain committed to delivering high-quality direct services, we also understand that these interventions alone will not achieve large-scale systemic change at the level required to revitalize the South Bronx community. This is why – with momentum generated from our 10 Children’s Aid community schools in the area and in close partnership with Phipps Neighborhoods and dozens of other local stakeholders – we launched South Bronx Rising Together.

Now in its fourth year, South Bronx Rising Together (SBRT) is a collective impact initiative composed of more than 150 cross-sector partners committed to building pathways to success “from cradle through college and career” by employing data-driven decision making to align efforts, leverage resources, and create a continuum of care in Bronx Community District 3, our target geographic region. SBRT was inspired by a sense of purpose that emerged from a series of conversations with students, families, service providers, community leaders, elected officials, and other stakeholders: we envision the South Bronx as a vibrant community of infinite opportunity, where people aspire to live, work, and raise families. This is a bold vision for any community to strive for, but even more so for the South Bronx – a place that has been the canonical image of urban blight and inequity since the 1960s and which has endured decades of neglect and injustice.

Bronx Community District 3 (CD3) is situated within the congressional district identified by the 2010 Census as the poorest in the country. Youth face seemingly insurmountable odds from an early age, as more than 83 percent are born into poverty. As they transition to school, adolescence, and early adulthood, the outcomes only worsen for too many of them. Four in five third-graders read below grade level, nearly 40 percent of K-12 students are chronically absent, only one in five students who complete high school are ready for college and career, and fewer than one in 10 adults have earned a four-year college degree.

Despite its many challenges however, CD3 has a rich cultural history, visionary leaders, a robust constellation of partners providing critical supports, and engaged community members committed to its success. In addition to our residents’ wisdom, there is tremendous existing capacity in the region to be connected and leveraged, including 61 district and charter schools, 20 of which are community schools. While SBRT is ultimately accountable to work with every school in our zone, our experience since we launched in 2014 is that community schools generally have the most capacity to engage effectively and sustainably in change efforts.

In fact, we have come to see the community schools and collective impact strategies not only as complementary, but as interdependent. Connecting and aligning large, complex systems is at the core of collective impact efforts, but the fact is that civic infrastructure needs a “ground game.” Community schools answer that call by bringing cross-sector groups together to work directly with children, youth, and families toward a commonly held set of results. Their real-time understanding of what students and families need and practical experience with what does and does not work can and should inform the policy agenda at the systems level. At the same time, seemingly intractable challenges affecting multiple community schools often require systemic, sustainable solutions that can be achieved through systemic change.

In the South Bronx, community schools have served as fertile ground for cultivating SBRT’s four school-based strategies: All In, All Star, All Clear, and All Thrive.

  • A dozen schools are currently “All In” schools, meaning they have partnered with SBRT to decrease their rates of chronic absence through several interventions, including: utilizing school attendance data, implementing weekly attendance meetings, mentoring chronically absent students, and reducing barriers to school attendance.
  • We are also partnering with a cohort of “All Star” schools to employ lessons learned from a “bright spot” analysis of CD3 elementary schools that have demonstrated high performance or consistent improvement on third-grade reading.
  • We are addressing staggering rates of childhood asthma in the district by engaging a group of “All Clear” schools, helping them implement strategies that will identify students with asthma, build school personnel and families’ capacity to manage asthma, and maintain linkages with community healthcare providers that will ensure students are healthy, supported, and fully participating in school.
  • Finally, SBRT is working to reduce unemployment and promote college- and career-readiness in early adulthood through a partnership with two “All Thrive” high schools.

SBRT’s work is really just getting started, especially given the magnitude of challenges we are aiming to solve as a community. But we are confident that community schools will continue to be one of several key strategies to inform systems change and bring about the opportunity and success our community deserves.