I am passionate about University-Assisted Community Schools (UACS), because children are our most important resource. Children may not have advocates. They have no political constituency and they cannot vote. As an advocate for social justice, I have often had to advocate for children and community schools. I have advocated for these constituencies and programs with the university and various levels of government and community programs.
In 1998, I realized that services for children in the United States in general, and Tennessee in particular, were fractured. A hub of services, a one-stop shop, was needed and the school seemed a natural place to do this. After all, school buildings were sitting empty after 3:00 p.m. every day. I initially conceptualized a school as a human service agency. Currently, community schools are places hosting a system of relationships. For me, there is no question that children services are in need of support, and the approach must be systemic.
I came up with the idea of UACS through my work in corrections and mental health. I knew that prevention was critically important in working with children. Focusing on the non-curricular needs of children and families is a need that UACS fulfills. Thinking systemically, focusing on prevention, and working collaboratively are the philosophy and practice of UACS, as I developed it.
The problems faced by schools are not the domain of educators alone. The prime times for crime, overeating, etc., are from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Hence, those are the hours of UACS operation. We are also open during summers and one Saturday a month. This broad schedule facilitates children involvement. UACS staff work with neighborhood members so as to work effectively with children and families. Opportunities for involvement are varied. The UACS welcomes new folks with new ideas. All types of people and their unique skills are needed and helpful.