The idea of school as center of the community has a long pedigree. Philosopher John Dewey was kicking it around a couple of centuries ago.

But the notion finally seems to be getting real traction in Washington. And two years ago, the US Department of Education picked Providence as one of 10 pilot cities for its full-service community schools program.

First up was Bailey Elementary School in lower South Providence, where social services agency Dorcas Place took the lead in creating a "wraparound" system of supports for students and their parents.

A typical day looks something like this: open at 6:30 am; breakfast and exercise for the kids in the morning; literacy classes for parents during the day; after-school appearances by tae kwon do instructors and a science specialist known as Professor Gizmo; doors close as late as 8 p.m.

Stephanie Federico, chief of staff for the Providence Public Schools, tells the story of a teacher who noticed a student drifting away. It turned out he was living in a car with his mother. An on-site social worker took up the case and a day later, Federico says, mother and son had temporary housing and a week's worth of groceries. Job interviews for the mother came shortly thereafter.

This is not the first time outside agencies have gotten involved in education, of course. But Rebecca Boxx, the school district's liaison for full-service community schools, says the agencies and schools are integrating services like never before. "It's messy and it's complicated," she says. "But it's effective."

In 2007, 27 percent of Bailey third graders tested proficient in reading. By 2009, the number had reached 41 percent. It's hard to say if the full-service model was the prime force. But the results are encouraging. The program has since taken root in four other schools.

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