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Full-Service Schools

Community, Prevention, Collaboration, Systems Change, Controversies, School-based versus school-linked services., Evaluation

According to David Tyack, writing in 1992, there is a long history in the United States of providing remediation services to children in a school setting. Early programs attempted to provide health and social services in the school setting. The intent of these early efforts was to assist immigrant children in adjusting to their new culture. Locating these services in the school changed the focus from serving the family to serving the individual child.

The following quote, from social reformer Robert Hunter, writing in 1904, is indicative of the environment in which full-service schools have evolved:

The time has come for a new conception of the responsibilities of the school. The lives of youth are desperate, parents bring up their children in surroundings which make them in large numbers vicious and criminally dangerous. Some agency must take charge of the entire problem of child life and master it. (Kronick, p. 23)

In a similar vein, William Wort, the superintendent of schools in Gary, Indiana, in 1923 stated:

The school should serve as a clearinghouse for children's activities so that all child welfare agencies may be working simultaneously and efficiently, thus creating a child's world within the city wherein all children may have a wholesome environment all of the day and everyday. (Kronick, p. 23)

The modern history of full-service schools must be traced to Joy Dryfoos. Her work is one of central importance for all who want to understand and implement full-service schools. Her 1994 book Full-Service Schools: A Revolution in Health and Services for Children, Youth, and Families is a landmark piece on the concept of full-service schools. She continues to write and advocate for full-service schools, and her writings and presentations are a critical force in the history and continued development of full-service community schools. According to Dryfoos, what is important in the historical evolvement of full-service schools is that many disparate groups were working toward the goal of creating such schools, but they did not know what each other was doing. These groups include the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Children's Aid Society, Communities and Schools, and the Tennessee Consortium for the Development of Full Service Schools. The following definition of a full-service school evolved out of discourse between Dryfoos and those working with her to try to develop full-service schools.

A full-service school is a school that has broadened its mission and vision to meet the needs of all of its students. The school is where health, mental health, and other services are provided. The emphasis is on prevention. The full-service school is a new environment where a systems approach to change is used. It is not a school where human services are an add-on. Collaboration thus becomes a key process in the school. Input from the community determines what special services will be provided. By meeting the noncurricular needs of children and families, the full-service school ensures that learning will happen for all students in the school.


Full-service schools have been around conceptually for quite some time. After all, the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859–1952) talked about the school as the community and the community as the school. Thus, community has been at the heart of full-service schools from the beginning. The concept of community is important to full-service schools in several ways. First, the school is a piece of real estate the community owns. This leads to the importance of building use after the end of the school day. The idea is that the sense of community increases as schools become better, and as schools improve the sense of community becomes stronger. At the same time each local community determines the needs for each school. Hence, the after-school needs may range from adult education to laundry services.

The importance of community is why full-service schools are often called full-service community schools. Other names include "lighted schools" and "beacons." The central idea, regardless of name, is that all children have the right to learn and the right to the best curriculum feasible. No learning will go on, however, if the children and their families' noncurricular needs are not met first. These needs might include alcohol and drug counseling, conflict resolution, general mental health issues, and many others. Research has found that the main need for the children and families is mental health care. It is impossible for children to learn when they come to school tired, hungry, and/or abused. Full-service schools support the notion that it is not whether the school will be a parent or not, but whether it will be a good parent.


Along with community, prevention is another central tenet of full-service schools. Keeping students in school and learning is clearly a way of preventing them from going on welfare or becoming incarcerated in a correctional or mental health facility. In her 1994 book, Dryfoos asserted that one in four children in America drinks or does drugs, has early unprotected sex, and/or drops out of school. This statistic alone should make prevention a priority.

In many states corrections and mental health consume an undue amount of the state budget because not enough time, money, and effort has been spent on prevention. The best place for conducting prevention programs is in schools, because that is where the children and the families are. Full-service schools, by working to meet the ecological needs of children and families, begin prevention and intervention at an early age and seek to diminish the inequities that exist between the haves and the havenots.

The philosophy of starting full-service schools is to begin where the need is the greatest. The thought is that if those who are on the bottom move up, all will benefit. The rising boat benefits all. In some schools, 90 percent of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. The mobility of these students and their families is very high, resulting in a high turnover rate. Oftentimes the whereabouts of these people is unknown. More is known about migratory birds than is known about migratory people.


Dryfoos noted that a universal call has been issued for one-stop, unfragmented, health and social service systems that are consumer oriented, developmentally appropriate, and culturally relevant. Full-service schools can be seen as central institutions in the community to provide an important if not critical organizing focus for the coordination and integration of service.

Full-service schools are seamless organizations in which educators and human service workers work collaboratively. The goal is to meet the needs of the child. Collaborators must set aside their own agendas and work for the benefit of the child. Collaboration as a bare minimum requires communication, trust, and clear agreements. It is much more complicated than coordination or cooperation.

Systems Change

The full-service school is a new environment in which a systems approach to change is used. Full-service schools collaborate with human service agencies in a systems approach. Blaming the child for not being able to learn appropriately is replaced by a problem-solving approach that does not seek to push the child out of school. A focus on systems emphasizes the interconnection of health, welfare, and educational forces in the child's life. The full-service school program watches for and tries to prevent push-outs and dropouts. There is a definite difference between the two.

The focus on systems emphasizes the importance of education and human service collaboration. This focus strongly asserts that human services cannot be add-ons at the school. Add-ons ensure only failure. Tinkering with schools but not making thoroughgoing changes courts failure. The full-service school is thus about thoroughgoing change.


Current controversies address the following issues:(1) Should the services be school based or school linked? (2) How should these services be integrated so that they are more than add-ons? (3) How can turfism be addressed? and (4) Do these support services water down academics?

School-based versus school-linked services.

School-based or school-linked services are concerned with colocation of services as well as pay and the sources of pay. School-based services have the advantage of immediacy of response, collegiality, and teamwork. They have the disadvantage of being associated negatively with the school if the child and parent have a bad perception of the school. School-based services help deal with the problems of transportation and fragmentation of services.

Integration of the services. One of the strongest arguments for full-service schools is that they will cut down on the fragmentation of existing services. In one full-service school project, which was launched in 1999, this proved to be the case within three years of launching. Helping professionals and educators, who at most schools normally do not work with each another, are sharing and collaborating. This school's experiences with school-linked services is that they are nothing more than what currently exists. The coordinator of services has reduced fragmentation.

There must be collaboration between schools and human service personnel. School principals play a critical role in this process. Schools that operate in a human relations frame, where communication is bottom up, horizontal, and top down, are more successful than those that are bureaucracies where communication is top down only. When people actually know each other they are more likely to trust one another.

Turfism. In dealing with a complex issue such as interprofessional collaboration, turfism arises as one of the thorniest issues to try to solve. The first problem here is responsibility. How do teachers and human service workers, who have historically not collaborated, work together harmoniously? This collaboration is well beyond the traditional working relationships between teachers and school social workers, school counselors, or school psychologists. The human service workers who are working in full-service schools are community personnel, and the collaboration with them is much more complex than those same professionals who are employed by school systems. Thus the second major issue of pay arises. Who is this worker actually working for, the school or the community agency? Is this worker a school system employee or a community service employee? This issue will be continually debated for quite some time. At the same time it is not an unsolvable problem.

Do these services water down academics? The final controversy is whether these services should be provided at the school, and if so, how will these services affect academics? Research answers the question in such a way that for a certain portion of school-age children, these support services must be offered for these children to have any chance at all for learning. To not provide these services yields the onerous option of the creation and continuation of a permanent underclass.

A related question, however, is what happens to the gifted child, in comparison to the average child? The money for education is fixed and not likely to expand. Thus the perennial question remains, can excellence and equity coexist? Excellence and education are not mutually exclusive. No, the idea is that full-service schools will not require education moving, but rather the moving of human service workers into school.


To those familiar with full-service schools it is not news that the evaluation process is lacking. Evaluation of the programs is essential in order to acquire funding, grants, and community support. Past attempts at documentation of success of the full-service school model have fallen drastically short of their goals because of poor planning and lack of data regarding the programs that constitute the school. Record-keeping may be the key to a successful school evaluation. This is a difficult task, especially so for the full-service school, because of the nature of the model. Because a full-service school consists of multiple components, such as a health clinic, after-school programs, adult education classes, and mental health services, an evaluation of the whole model must include all of the subcomponents. Turnover of students also affects the evaluation process. In many inner-city schools student turnover is upwards of 30 percent each school year. It is impossible to get an accurate reading of school improvement with such a loss of data.

Finally, time should be considered when evaluating a full-service school. These programs develop slowly and improve and change based on school and community needs. Therefore, it may take several years for the full effects on students and their families to become evident. Consequently a one-or two-year evaluation may not leave sufficient time for all the benefits to manifest. All these factors should be considered before an evaluation of a full-service school can take place.

One way to control many of the problems that will be encountered is for the evaluators to be involved from the conception of the program. Therefore they can establish the criteria for an evaluation and determine what data need to be tracked and for how long. Working intimately with the principal is essential to evaluation success. Also helpful is to employ an activities coordinator to oversee and keep documentation on all components of the school. This responsibility is too cumbersome for the principal to undertake and should not be pushed off onto already overworked teachers. Making good use of the position of activities coordinator will help the full-service school be seen as a unified institution, thereby making evaluation more effective.

The Future

In the early twenty-first century, democratic communities are needed more than ever. The schoolhouse can be the place for discourse on important international events that will affect the educational system for many years to come. The schoolhouse, as stated at the outset, belongs to the community. The full-service school has not been used a great deal internationally, but at the Community Schools Conference (March 2001, Kansas City, Missouri) there were architects from Japan present. Japan is very interested in learning how architects can help develop schools that can be used by students for both academic and nonacademic pursuits. Urban/city planners are also coming into the planning and development of full-service schools. Hence, nontraditional professionals are now entering the fray, trying to see that all children are educated, and the full-service school is certainly one way to do this.


DRYFOOS, JOY. 1994. Full-Service Schools: A Revolution in Health and Services for Children, Youth, and Families. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

KRONICK, ROBERT F., ed. 2000. Human Services and the Full Service School. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

MELAVILLE, ATELIA, and BLANK, MARTIN. 2000. "Trends and Issues in School-Community Interventions." In Changing Results for Children and Families: Linking Collaborative Services with School Reform Efforts, ed. Margaret Wang and William Boyd. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

TYACK, DAVID. 1992. "Health and Social Services in Public Schools: Historical Perspectives." Future of Children 2:19–31.


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