In October of 2008, the University of Central Florida and Children’s Home Society of Florida agreed to explore ways to partner together to improve outcomes for children and families. By January of 2009, they were committed to work together to bring a “community school” model developed by New York Children’s Aid Society to Orlando. Community schools led by the Children’s Aid Society in New York have transformed their neighborhoods – the community schools are recognized as safe places, even in the most dangerous areas – and have significantly enhanced the quality of life for students, their families and community members.
Evans Community School opened in August 2012 to offer student-centered, family-focused and school-based wraparound services to Evans High students, their families and community members in the surrounding impoverished Pine Hills neighborhood. Evans is one of two high schools identified as persistently low performing within Orange County Public Schools (OCPS), the 10th largest school district in the nation and the fourth largest in Florida. At Evans, 84% of the 2,424 Evans’ students in grades 9-12 are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The unemployment rate in Pine Hills is approximately 10.5%, exceeding local, state and national averages.
The Evans campus is open days and evenings year-round, providing a safe, familiar environment where students can get help with homework, improve their reading skills and overcome other learning obstacles. Additionally, parents, families and others in the community have access to adult learning programs. ECS also provides students and their families the opportunity to experience new social and cultural activities, and have access to medical and wellness programs. Since the idea of the Community School began in 2008, Evans has progressed from an F school to a B school. Graduation rates have risen from 67 per cent to 85 percent and average SAT scores have improved by over 20 points in writing, math and reading. More than a community center, ECS is becoming the hub of the community.
The comprehensive approach at Evans Community School is led by core partners Orange County Public Schools, Children’s Home Society of Florida, the University of Central Florida and Central Florida Family Health Center; additionally, many other health, cultural and social service organizations are involved to integrate programs, activities and services into the education and lives of Evans High School students and their families.