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Bensenville School District 2 recently received the U.S. Department of Education’s Full Service Community School grant for $2.5 million.

That was just the latest good grant news the District has received, as the Illinois State Board of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants program also awarded District 2 and Fenton High School $3 million.

Together, these grants will fund $5 million of critical community schools initiatives in District 2 over the next five years.

Collage of photos of after-school programs in BSD2's RISR Academies WHAT ARE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS?

"Community schools reach out to the entire community, making them places where everyone belongs," said Dr. James Stelter, District 2 Superintendent of Schools. "They’re not only places where students get an education. Families are also there, getting the services and resources they need to succeed, too. They’re incredibly valuable assets for the entire community."

Research shows that community schools improve the way students learn. They reduce retention and dropout rates while increasing school attendance, math and reading achievement, and parent participation.

These are just some of the reasons Dr. Stelter embarked on an ambitious effort to transform District 2 by implementing supports and services that align with the vision of a community schools model. These efforts began four years ago by building connections with community organizations to provide culturally appropriate after-school programming. This included outreach to local churches and the creation of an interfaith advisory committee to help address some of the basic needs of District 2 students.


“We made great progress toward our community collaboration goals, but we still needed a formal funding structure to propel this effort to the next levels,” said Dr. Stelter.

As District 2 stretched itself financially to bring additional services to its students, Dr. Stelter discovered a rare funding opportunity when he randomly checked his junk email folder and found a message about the Full Service grant. Unfamiliar with this opportunity, he contacted the District’s partners at the Frida Kahlo Community Organization, who had recently helped District 2 and Fenton High School secure a $3 million 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant from the Illinois State Board of Education.

Photo of a BSD2 teacher conducting a home visit Frida Kahlo explained how the Full Service Grant’s goals dovetailed nicely with those of the 21st Century Grant. The Full Service grant’s objectives focus on parent education, targeted professional development for teachers, after-school programming, and improving mental health supports. Programming funded by the 21st Century grant focuses on such topics as academic enrichment, arts integration, technology, social-emotional learning, college and career readiness, and parent and family programming

So -- with that connection made, but just two weeks before the application deadline -- District 2 organized a grant writing team and completed the Full Service grant application. Several months later, the District’s application was approved. In fact, it scored nearly 100 percent on the grant’s rubric, missing only those points awarded to rural school districts.

As one of just 15 grantees across the country to receive the Full Service grant, District 2 was awarded $2.5 million over a five-year period.

“The moral of the story is that it’s a good idea to check your junk folders,” said Dr. Stelter.

Photos of BSD2 teachers participating in arts integration professional development activities MOVING FORWARD

As District 2 moves towards implementation, improved services are already taking place. For example, the District’s teacher home visit initiative, which received an Award of Excellence in the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2018 Those Who Excel awards program, will be expanded and improved through the appointment of a Lead Home Visit Teacher. After-school programming that addresses the cultural diversity of the community is also being developed, and teachers are receiving customized professional development in the areas of arts integration, cultural competency, and social emotional learning.

Christy Poli, a clinical social worker and the coordinator of District 2’s birth-to-3 program, is District 2’s Full Service Grant project director, and is now working to implement the grant’s objectives.

“The grant allows us to develop specific programing not just for students, but for families as well,” Poli said. “Research shows that when families are involved in their children’s education, they are much more likely to succeed in school. Transportation, parent education, and teacher home visits are a just a few strategies outlined in the grant that will help create a stronger home-to-school connection, ultimately leading to academic success.”  


A great overview on community schools can be found at this website:

“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. Community schools offer a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends.”

 Additional information on the Full Service Community Schools Program can be found at this website:

“Full-Service Community Schools provide comprehensive academic, social, and health services for students, students’ family members, and community members that will result in improved educational outcomes for children. These services may include: high-quality early learning programs and service; remedial education, aligned with academic supports and other enrichment activities, providing students with a comprehensive academic program; family engagement, including parental involvement, parent leadership, family literacy, and parent education programs; mentoring and other youth development programs; community service and service learning opportunities; programs that provide assistance to students who have been chronically absent, truant, suspended, or expelled; job training and career counseling services; nutrition services and physical activities; primary health and dental care; activities that improve access to and use of social service programs and programs that promote family financial stability; mental health services; and adult education, including instruction of adults in English as a second language.”

Additional information on the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program can be found at this website:

“This program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.”