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National conference to highlight ABQ ‘community schools’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Monique shared her story through tears.

Before a roomful of people this week, she explained how she ended up on the streets with her two children after a bad breakup about a year ago.

But she found help in an unlikely place — her children’s school, Manzano Mesa Elementary in southeast Albuquerque.

A coordinator there helped pull together enough funding for Monique to stay temporarily in a motel, then helped her get into an apartment, she said. The school provided clothes, backpacks full of food and gift cards to help the family.

It all happened through a little-known initiative called ABC Community School Partnership, or just “community schools.”

“This experience has changed my life, and I am forever grateful,” Monique said Tuesday.

The program — jointly funded by Bernalillo County, the city of Albuquerque, the school district and private sources — is about to get some national recognition.

The national Coalition for Community Schools announced Tuesday that it has picked Albuquerque as the site of its leadership conference next year. The event is expected to draw about 2,000 attendees from across the country, officials said.

“We want to highlight the important work you’re doing,” said Martin Blank, director of the national Coalition for Community Schools.

The “community schools” concept is aimed at making schools more than just a place where kids go during the day. Instead, the goal is to transform the schools into centers of the community — a hub where families can get help with homework or connect with services offered by other agencies.

In Albuquerque, the $2.3 million-a-year effort pays for coordinators at school sites who try to help families overcome anything that’s a barrier to their children’s learning, officials said. That can mean job training, health care or other services — with some programs paid for through the initiative and others offered by outside groups.

In Monique’s case, she said, the coordinator “actually lent me things from her own home, which was extremely touching.”

Monique said she is now back on her feet, working full-time without relying on help from the school.

The local community schools effort is overseen by a board with membership from local governments and community groups.

“This is one public-private partnership that is really working but is also one of Albuquerque’s best-kept secrets,” County Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins said.

Mayor Richard Berry said the city government is proud to be part of the movement.

“This is cracking the code of just getting people together and lifting each other up,” he said.

About two dozen schools are now considered full “community schools,” and about 60 others receive some kind of support through the program.

Also Tuesday, Lockheed Martin, on behalf of Sandia National Laboratories, and the nonprofit group Innovate+Educate announced donations of $10,000 each for community-school programs.

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