University-assisted Community Schools (2019-2020)


Community schools bring together academics, social services and youth development under one roof, leading to improved learning, stronger families and healthier communities. To support community schools, Durham Public Schools and its stakeholders address many challenges surrounding equitable school experiences and outcomes. To respond to these challenges, Bull City Community Schools Partnership was formed as a grassroots effort to transform schools.

The Community Schools Partnership asks stakeholders to leave silos and form coalitions, developing innovative curricula and teaching practices based on social justice and local leadership. Premised on a comprehensive asset and needs assessment, strategic planning, partner engagement and dedicated coordinators, the Community Schools Initiative uses culturally sustaining practices and stakeholder leadership to reduce barriers to success and offer school communities a chance for renewal.

This Bass Connections project will study the benefits and limitations of the University of Pennsylvania’s University-Assisted Community Schools program, focusing on ways universities can mobilize their resources to support Durhams public schools.

Project Description

This project aims to establish an equitable and sustaining partnership between Durham-based universities and Durham Public Schools. Establishing such a partnership requires universities to be active listeners, willing to learn from those currently and historically engaged in work surrounding public education.

The Bull City Community Schools Partnership is undertaking a needs and assets mapping project, a year-long effort that incorporates the perspectives of traditional and nontraditional stakeholders for each of the four pilot community schools. Only after the mapping is complete will schools have a defined sense of what their needs are and where universities might be able to support schools’ initiatives. This project team will respond to the needs identified through the mapping project by connecting existing university initiatives and resources with local community schools in a way that is mutually beneficial.

In order to achieve a vision of equitable partnership, the team aims to help prepare university faculty, staff and students for the practical and theoretical challenges of working with public school stakeholders. The team will prepare university students with the proper pedagogical training and youth development best practices. One long-term goal is a robust equity training curriculum for university stakeholders that focuses on race, class and the histories that complicate the relationships between universities and their surrounding public schools.

Anticipated Outputs

Symposium that engages North Carolina Central University, Duke University and Durham community members; literature review; data for further research

Student Opportunities

Ideally, the team will include 15 undergraduate students from Duke and North Carolina Central University who have a goal of learning more about the Durham Public Schools system and university engagement in local schools. Therefore, students will likely be pursuing an array of majors including Education, Global Health, Public Policy, Sociology, Psychology, History and Cultural Anthropology.

Students with a basic level of statistical science, skills with qualitative research, community service and service-learning, inequality research, community advocacy and social science research will be strong candidates.

The project team will be broken down into 4-5 smaller topic teams, each organized by one of the priority areas identified by the Needs and Assets Assessment completed by the Bull City Community Schools Partnership. Topic teams will meet weekly (at a time based on student availability) and will include 3 students and 2 staff and faculty members, with individuals from both North Carolina Central and Duke. The full project team will meet once per month on Friday afternoons for a large-group progress report.

All students will develop skills in broad areas related to public schools, civic engagement, community-based research, service learning and social science inquiry. Specific topic teams will cultivate depth of practice in areas such as subject interviews, content analysis, literature review and ethics of community-based research.

Graduate students will develop skills in organization and team management, mobilizing campus energy for community benefit and facilitation techniques for collective and individual processing. All students will have the opportunity to travel to the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Fall 2019: Conduct literature review; take fall break field trip to Netter Center; begin asset mapping of universities
  • Spring 2020: Research best practice models based on data from Needs and Assets Assessment; plan and host a symposium; present findings


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters


Images: Courtesy of Bull City Community Schools Partnership blog

Courtesy of Bull City Community Schools Partnership blog.

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Amy Anderson, Service Learning*
  • Deborah Best, School of Medicine-Pediatrics
  • Kisha Daniels, Arts & Sciences-Program in Education
  • Alec Greenwald, Academic Advising Center*
  • Adam Hollowell, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Girija Mahajan, Duke College Advising Corps
  • Eliza Mathew, Community Affairs
  • Kevin McLeod, School of Medicine-Community and Family Medicine
  • Lindsey Miller, PAS Adm - Doce

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Jessica Benton, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Durham Public Schools
  • Bull City Community Schools Partnership (BCCSP)
  • North Carolina Central University (NCCU)-School of Education & Department of Nursing
  • Yolanda Dunston, North Carolina Central University
  • Erma Smith-King, North Carolina Central University