University-Assisted Community Schools

A major component of the Netter Center’s work is mobilizing the vast resources of universities to help traditional public schools become innovative University-Assisted Community Schools (UACS).


UACS educate, engage, empower, and serve not only students, but also all other members of the community in which the school is located. 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 education institutions in general, can serve as 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 simultaneously improves the quality of life and learning in local schools and communities while advancing university research, teaching, learning, and service.


Many of the Netter Center's school-based programs--from the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative to College Access and Career Readiness to Moelis Access Science to Young Quakers Community Athletics and UACS Sports--work together to form the key components of the UACS model. UACS in West Philadelphia currently serve approximately 3,000 children and youth and their families from a set of schools within two high school catchment areas.



University-Assisted Community Schools in West Philadelphia include:



Each school site has at minimum one coordinator from the Netter Center who works closely with the school and community to determine activities that best serve the specific needs of that area. Netter Center staff and partners also support the involvement of hundreds of Penn students in these activities.


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The UACS strategy is based on the following principles:

  • The strategy assumes that community schools, like universities (or any institution of higher education), can function as focal points to help create healthy urban environments and that both universities and colleges function best in such environments.
  • Somewhat more specifically, the strategy assumes that, like higher eds, public schools can function as environment-changing institutions and can become the strategic centers of broadly based partnerships that genuinely engage a wide variety of community organizations and institutions.
  • Therefore, more than any other institution, public schools are particularly well suited to function as neighborhood "hubs" or "centers," around which local partnerships can be generated and developed.
  • When they play that innovative role, schools function as community institutions par excellence. They then provide a decentralized, democratic, community-based response to rapidly changing community problems. In the process, they help young people learn better, at increasingly higher levels, through action-oriented, collaborative, real-world problem solving.
  • Working to solve complex, real-world problems is the best way to advance knowledge and learning, as well as the general capacity of individuals and institutions to advance knowledge and learning.
  • Moreover, if the neighborhood school is to function as a genuine community center, it needs additional human resources and support.
  • We emphasize university-assisted because we have become convinced that universities constitute the strategic sources of broadly based, comprehensive, sustained support for community schools.


The university-assisted community school model is a value-added approach to education reform, providing collaborative, academic partnerships and significant in-kind resources that can be brought to many different domains. For more information, see our Annual Reports.


Student Involvement

Hundreds of Penn students participate in University-Assisted Community School programs each year through ABCS courses, internships, work-study, and volunteer opportunities.


For example, Community School Student Partnerships (CSSP) is a Penn student-run organization that provides academic and cultural enrichment to children and families in West and Southwest Philadelphia. As part of the university-assisted community school network through the Netter Center, CSSP operates after school and evening programs across six public schools in West Philadelphia by recruiting, training, and coordinating nearly 400 Penn student tutors/mentors.


Another example is the Silverman Fellows Program, led by Penn undergraduates, which works to promote critical reading, writing, and speaking skills in West Philadelphia high-school classrooms.


For more information on how to participate, please see: Get Involved: Students.


National Adaptation

The university-assisted community school model has also been replicated nationally.  From 1994-2004, twenty-three colleges and universities participated in the Netter Center's national replication project, through which local sites adapted the framework of the university-assisted community school model, while an additional 75 teams of higher education, community, and school partners were trained on the model. The Netter Center now supports regional training centers on university-assisted community schools. Each year, the Netter Center hosts more than 50 visitors from colleges and universities around the country and around the globe. For more information, please visit: University-Assisted Community Schools National Replication Project.


University-assisted community schools are also part of a larger national movement for community schools.  The Netter Center's Director is Chair Emeritus and a Founder of the Coalition for Community Schools, which now has more than 160 local, state, and national member organizations in education K-16, youth development, family support, community building, government, and philanthropy.  The Coalition's 2010 National Forum was held in Philadelphia and was co-hosted by the Netter Center.


Getting Started: Tips for Developing University-Assisted Community School Partnerships