Walter Orr, a corporate fitness trainer, holds a session with students from Leopold Elementary School last fall.


The Madison Metropolitan School District announced Monday it received a $500,000 grant from CUNA Mutual Group to expand its community schools program.

MMSD’s community schools initiative seeks to make schools hubs for their neighborhoods. The schools work with families, students, local neighborhood centers and other groups to identify and address community needs.

Leopold and Mendota elementary schools are MMSD’s first community schools. In the first year of the program, for the 2016-2017 school year, Mendota and Leopold made their schools more accessible spaces for their communities through classes for adults, tutoring for students, open school nights for community programming and leadership opportunities for parents.

Ten schools applied to be a part of the community schools during that first phase. MMSD plans to launch two more community schools in the 2018-2019 school year. 

Beth Cutler, CUNA Mutual Group community relations and foundation leader, said in a press release that the grant will help community schools “expand their good work” in the coming years.

“Community schools work holistically to help children succeed academically, which builds leadership skills and positions them for success,” Cutler said. “Creating a school where students, family and community work together in a coordinated fashion is a winning combination that builds the assets of that community.”

The model looks to community members to decide which needs the school should focus on during the year.

The committee at Mendota identified out-of-school activities, support for homeless and highly mobile families, and employment and training opportunities for families and working-age students as their priorities for the last school year.

Leopold focused on out-of-school time, opportunities for people of color to be in positions of power, and increased academic support for students of color.  

In a press release, Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said the community schools model offers a holistic approach to community service and engagement.

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“When students and their families are fully supported, our students can be ready to excel in the classroom,” Cheatham said. “Our two community schools are building on the strengths of our students and families, closing gaps in needed support areas and integrating coordinated services into our schools.”

Local organizations, including the Madison Community Foundation, Madison Pebble Foundation, and Madison Gas and Electric have given $430,000 to support the initiative.

Community partners for in-school programming include the Madison Public Library, the First Tee and Wisconsin Martial Arts and Fitness Center.

Samantha Clausen-Ruppert is the resource coordinator at Leopold Elementary and serves as the site director for its community schools program. Clausen-Ruppert said she appreciates CUNA Mutual Group’s support of the initiative.

“It's exciting to receive this funding from our community. This will allow us to continue serving our families, students, and community through our public community schools," she said.

“We are grateful to sustain this work and expand to more schools.”