National School Climate Center's Youth led School Community Partnerships: Mobilizing the "Whole Village" to support the "Whole Child"

What if the whole village learned and worked with K-12 schools to create safe, supportive, engaging and healthy climates for learning?

Photo of Jonathan Cohen
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

In my work with districts and schools I would often say that school climate reform is all about mobilizing the “whole village” to support the “whole child.” But I realized that we don’t really learn and work with the whole village, we only recognize student, parent and school personnel “voice.” This troubled me, knowing that children really do need the support of the whole village to grow and learn in the best ways that they can. We also knew from our research that the single most common school climate survey finding is that students report feeling much less safe in schools than educators and parents realize! And, that this is almost always due to pervasive and toxic bully-victim-bystander behavior. I imagined how powerful it would be if community members – from faith based to local media, law enforcement and political/civic leaders – were partners in raising awareness about bully-victim-witness behavior. These realizations and concerns prompted me to create The Community Scale and School-Community Partnership Process to complement existing school climate surveys. This new scale engages students in surveying and recognizing the voice of community members and empowers them to be actively involved in their school’s improvement efforts; inviting the larger community to become their partner. I have been inspired by how this new scale and youth led partnership process is setting in motion simple, concrete, meaningful, and impactful school/community projects.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

Website For the School Community Partnership Process:

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New York

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

New York City

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Connecticut

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Illinois, Minnesota, Chile (soon). In each setting, I have been inspired by how this new scale and youth-led partnership process is setting in motion simple, concrete, meaningful, and collaborative projects such as youth co-led school and community efforts to raise awareness about what it means to be an Upstander, not a bystander to cruel and bullying behaviors.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

American K-12 education has been a top down enterprise that has privileged reading, math and science learning. Yet, research underscores that it is essential that students be engaged as learners and co-leaders; that we recognize and support social, emotional and civic as well as academic learning; and that no one person or group can support school transformational improvement efforts. We simply must learn and work as a village – students, parents/guardians, school personnel and community members/leaders. The Community Scale and youth-led School Community Partnership Process is a simple, powerful, structured process that supports conversations, learning and practical action plans to address 3 major problems: • lack of student engagement and co-leadership in K-12 schools; • K-12’s narrow focus on cognitive learning; and, • poor school-family-community partnerships.

Students need to be authentically authorized and supported to be learners in ways that are meaningful to them as well as to be co-leaders of inter-generational school climate improvement efforts that will directly benefit them. The Community Scale is the first school climate metric that explicitly recognizes the “voice” of community members and leaders from 15 sectors of the larger school community. Engaging youth to be the co-leaders of this effort supports the goal of creating new student/inter-generational leadership opportunities as well as forging new and meaningful school-community partnership efforts that improve school climates for learning.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

A Connecticut school principal made it a priority to improve school climate by engaging the ‘whole village’ using the Community Scale. A core leadership team (principal, teachers, parents, and students) was trained in use of the Community Scale and, in turn, trained other students who worked with teachers and parents to administer the survey to over 130 community members. 85% of respondents wanted to be more involved in the school. Several school/community projects resulted, all conducted in a framework of character and school climate goals of teaching respect, responsibility, and civic participation. “Students realized that they are part of a bigger picture and purpose and that their whole community wanted to help them develop and learn.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

A school pilot that combined the Community Scale with their school climate efforts saw a 28% increase in student attendance, 21% increase in teacher attendance, and 52% increase in students’ sense of community. Additional, quantitative outcomes will be forthcoming from pilots in other states. Qualitatively, an impressive and broad range of school-community efforts have been developed as a result of our pilot work including: parent forums on behavior, civic/social expectations and experimental learning; mental health professional involvement in supporting student behavior and social challenges; school-wide presentations on school climate improvement co-led by students; town beautification projects, food drives for families in need, literacy programs, school job fair, and student training in research skills.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We plan to charge school communities roughly $3,000 to work with NSCC, with the expectation that schools will secure state, district and/or grant support. We are in the process of researching NSCC’s costs including time spent on the phone/Skype conferring with and supporting students and educators, and the costs of growing our on-line resources (e.g. an online survey that automatically generates a report as well as guidelines and resources).

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There growing support of school climate reform by federal and state education agencies that will only increase under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires that states adopt a “non academic” measure of accountability. Many states well select a school climate measure that recognizes student, parent and school personnel “voice.” The Community Scale will extend these school climate measures by including the voice of community members and helping to ignite the intrinsic motivation of youth leaders to work to create even safer, more supportive, engaging and healthy climates for learning.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

The Every Student Succeeds Act is an important step in promoting the social, emotional, ethical and civic aspects of student learning and school life. Yet, while 99% of educators believe school climate is “very” to “extremely” important,55% to 90% say they need support to know what to do, when and how. Our scale supports 3 essential, inter-related and exciting goals: student engagement and inter-generational leadership; meaningful school-community partnerships; and, social, emotional and civic as well as intellectual learning that grows out of the actual school-community partnership projects.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Other

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

At a recent RWJF/AIR Practitioner Meeting on School Climate and SEL (April 14-15, 2016) meeting, Jennifer Ng'andu (RWJF senior program officer) suggested I actively learn about RWJF funding opportunities.

Program Design Clarity

The “beneficiary community” is students, parents, community members/leaders and K-12 school personnel. K-12 Students and educators learns about the Scale and the youth-led School Community Partnership Process. We support them with training manuals, webinars, (conversations, and, through video tapes and case studies that the students and educators develop. NSCC supports students’ administering the short survey to ~15 members of each of the 15 sectors of the larger school community. Students’ analyze the findings, publicize the results and support actual and practicalpartnership efforts.

Community Leadership

NSCC’s school-district improvement work is organized around garnering reliable/valid feedback from students’, parents, school personnel and now, with the Scale and Process, community members/leaders as well! Supporting equity for all students has always been a foundational for NSCC. Over the last seven years, promoting equity has become more of an explicit in our practice and policy efforts and our own staff development.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

• Growing number of State DOEs/districts are coming to us for school climate policy, leadership development and school improvement efforts. • Keynotes national webinars and publications (papers & books) • On line School Climate Resource Center (V 2.0) will be another way that we ‘scale’ the growing range of metrics, guidelines, learning modules that we have and/or are developing as well as to foster national professional learning communities.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

This Scale and youth-led Process are designed to support students’ sense of purpose and belonging. Because this is a true inter-generational leadership effort, students feel that what they are co-leading is supporting a more cohesive, supportive, engaging and healthy climate for learning that promotes school & life success. Inter-generational leaders is a foundational goal and process supporting ongoing learning and school improvement.

Leadership Story

I had significant difficulty learning how to read due to dyslexia. And, I also stuttered fairly severely as a child. My deep gratitude to people – teachers and peers – who were understanding and supportive left a deep, appreciative “mark” within me. I knew that I wanted to give back to others what they had given to me. In high school, I was surprised to be elected vice president. This not something I sought. What I learned was that others appreciated my honesty, focus on learning, and standing up for social justice.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

The 2009 Interdisciplinary Psychoanalysis and Pre-K-12 Education Award: American Psychoanalytic Association, International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, and the educational journal, Schools: Studies in Education. GreatNonprofit Award, In 2014 & 2015

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 25%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 50%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 25%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 25%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 50%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 25%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 100%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 0%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 25%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 25%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 25%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 25%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 50%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 50%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Christy Beighe-Byrne

This was a well written proposal. It sounds like the schools using the School Climate survey and working on their issue areas are seeing true positive growth towards a caring community. The only question I had was in regards to location. I see that your agency is headquartered in NY, but has operated in CT and then is in several other states. I would either explain this a little better and/or think about growing by region versus stretching out so widely.

Photo of Jonathan Cohen

thanks Christy,
I have found the word/character limits really challenging here! We are based in NYC. And, somewhat to my surprise (as NSCC began -- truly -- as an accident 20 years ago) we are now working with districts and states across America as well as in France, Peru, Spain and Japan. More and more leadership development for both educators and students is a focus. And, what we are doing is being 'teacher/learners/co-leaders' with the groups educators (most recently in Minn and now Penn) as well as State DOE folks who are supporting these efforts to become local state ambassadors as well as 'teachers' to and with us.

Photo of Christy Beighe-Byrne

Hello Jonathan- I totally hear you about the character limits.  We couldn't even fit our LinkedIn website :)   It's neat to hear that you are world-wide!   It sounds like you are making a huge impact!   Keep up the great work! 

Photo of Jonathan Cohen


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