Implementation of the Community Schools Initiative at Southwark School

Composite of Southwark School neighborhood




Assistant Professor

Project Summary

With the aim of improving the city’s failing public school system, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney created the community schools initiative, in which he committed to creating 25 community schools during his first term in office. In order to track the progress of this initiative, I conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Rand Quinn.


Community schools foster partnerships with city agencies and local community organizations in order to provide for the school community’s unique needs. The ultimate goal of community schools is to address non-academic barriers, such as violence, hunger, and homelessness, that students face that hinder them from learning.  So far, eleven Philadelphia schools have been named to transition into community schools. Each community school was appointed a community schools coordinator to work with the entire school community to identify the needs of the community.


The school that I chose to focus on was Southwark School, located in South Philadelphia’s East Passyunk neighborhood.  Out of the 752 students at Southwark school, 41% are English language learners and 32.6% were born outside of the United States. Southwark faces unique challenges, as more than seven languages are spoken at the school. Therefore, one of the primary priorities identified by the Mayor’s Office of Education for Southwark was increasing supports for immigrant families, refugee families, and community members. 


In order to understand how the different stakeholders of Southwark school view the community schools initiative in Philadelphia, I conducted interviews with the community schools coordinator and the principal of Southwark.  Through these interviews, I found that the stakeholders found the community schools initiative to be a positive change for the school.


Not only was I able to study the community schools initiative in Philadelphia, but I also assisted with my mentor’s research: “Gentrification and Parent Problem-Solving in Philadelphia Schools.”  In order to study the level of gentrification happening in any Philadelphia neighborhood, I created a protocol to be used on transect walks. This protocol included a list of things to observe in the neighborhood that would indicate various stages of gentrification. This protocol was also used to explore the neighborhood surrounding Southwark school. 


Through this research experience, I learned how to conduct an independent research project in the social sciences. I enjoyed my research experience, and look forward to continuing research at Penn.