University-Assisted Community Schools

A major component of the Netter Center's work is mobilizing the vast resources of the University to help traditional public schools become innovative University-Assisted Community Schools (UACS) that educate, engage, empower, and serve students, families, and community members. UACS focus on schools as core institutions for community engagement and democratic development, as well as link school day and after school curricula to solve locally identified, real-world, community problems. For neighborhood schools to function as genuine community centers, however, they need additional human resources and support. The Netter Center emphasizes "university-assisted" because universities, indeed higher educational institutions in general, can constitute the strategic sources of broadly based, comprehensive, sustained support for community schools. UACS engage universities as lead partners in providing academic, human, and material resources. This mutually beneficial partnership improves the quality of life and learning in local schools and communities while simultaneously advancing university research, teaching, learning, and service.

AUNI Interns nutrition education at Lea

High school interns teaching nutrition education at Lea Elementary


Photo of Community Physics Initiative ABCS students teach at local high school

Penn ABCS students in Community Physics Initiative course teach at local high school


Photo of Penn student and Comegys student cooking together

Penn student and Comegys "cooking crew" student

The Netter Center’s university-assisted community school programs in West Philadelphia currently focus on: Comegys School (grades K-8), Lea School (K-8), Sayre High School, and West Philadelphia High School. Programming occurs during the school day, after school, evenings, Saturdays, and summers. Each school site has, at minimum, one full-time site director who works closely with the school and the community to determine activities that best serve their specific needs and interests. In addition to organizing and overseeing the programs, community school site directors serve as liaisons between the University and the school, as well as between school day teachers and the after school program. Penn students taking ABCS courses, work-study students, and student volunteers provide vital support for these programs, serving as tutors, mentors, classroom fellows, and activity and project leaders.

The following publications by Netter Center colleagues detail the history and development of University-Assisted Community Schools:




John Dewey photo

"The pressing thing, the significant thing, is really to make the school a social centre; that is a matter of practice, not of theory. Just what to do in order to make the schoolhouse a centre of full and adequate social service to bring it completely into the current of social life—such are the matters, I am sure, which really deserve the attention of the public and that occupy your own minds."

John Dewey (1902)