Full Service Community Schools: A Great Opportunity for Integrating Physical Activity!

In early May 2014, the US Department of Education released a competitive RFP for the Full Service Community Schools (FSCS) grant program for the first time since 2010. This unique opportunity surfaced in 2008, making 10 awards later that year. No new awards were posted for 2009, but a new competition was held in 2010, when another 11 awards were made. While winners from 2008 and 2010 continued to receive funds in the interim years, no new competitions or awards have been seen from this program since 2010. We were pleasantly surprised to see a new FSCS competition offered in 2014!

Full Service Community Schools is in many ways the type of grant the average person envisions when he/she thinks of grants: it will fund almost any type of service delivered at almost any time (during school, after school, before school, weekends, summer, school breaks, etc.). That said, as with all programs, there are certainly some key rules and requirements. Specifically, only Local Educational Agencies (LEAs--public school districts and charter schools and educational service areas or cooperatives designated as LEAs by state law) partnering with one or more community partners can apply. Additionally, each applicant must propose to offer three or more of the following types of services to students:

1. High-quality early learning programs or services.

2. Remedial education, aligned with academic supports and other enrichment activities, providing students with a comprehensive academic program.

3. Family engagement, including parental involvement, parent leadership, family literacy, and parent education programs.

4. Mentoring and other youth development programs.

5. Community service and service learning opportunities.

6. Programs that provide assistance to students who have been chronically absent, truant, suspended, or expelled.

7. Job training and career counseling services.

8. Nutrition services and physical activities.

9. Primary health and dental care.

10. Activities that improve access to and use of social service programs and programs that promote family financial stability.

11. Mental health services.

12. Adult education and literacy services including instruction of adults in English as a second language.

Since this program is focused on making the school the hub for delivery and/or coordination of a range of academic and non-academic services, community partnerships are critical. LEAs must have at least one partner in order to be eligible to apply, but a review of past awards shows only 3 of the 21 previous awardees had just 3 community partners (in addition to the school/school system). All other winners had longer lists of partners. With an eye toward coordination but not duplication of services, this makes sense. Potential applicants would be wise to follow the lead of previous winners and present projects that include at least 3 active community partners and more if possible.

In 2014, applicants can request up to $500,000 per year for up to five years to implement and/or expand their chosen services at their new or existing full service community school sites. Applicants are required to offer a match. While no specific matching amount is required by the program, applicants are strongly encouraged to offer a cash and/or inkind match of at least 20%. All full service community school sites must have full-time Full Service Community School Coordinators.

At this point in the article, you're probably wondering why we've chosen to include this post on the POLAR site. Well here's why: applicants applying for 2014 FSCS have the opportunity to offer physical activity and nutrition services to students and families at any point in or outside of the school day and year! POLAR products can certainly be a part of that program of services and supports. Due to the requirement to offer at least three of the listed service types, physical activity programming cannot be the sole focus of your project, but it certainly could be a key focus. If yours is one of the many schools out there looking to increase physical activity not just in Physical Education classes but throughout the day and year, this grant can help you do that, and it may be the only federal grant competition that will be offered in 2014 that explicitly states it will support physical activity for schools given PEP funded down the slate this year. Further, while PEP largely excludes any individual who is not a K-12 student from project participate and equipment use, this grant allows schools to support students and their families, and does not appear to have community use restrictions on equipment. So physical activity and nutrition programming could be open on a regularly basis to whole families.

Competition will be fierce with only 10 new awards anticipated for 2014. Assume your application needs to be absolutely outstanding. With applications due 6/20/2014, there isn't much time to make that happen, but  if you feel strongly that this program is a match for your school and your students' needs, and you can engage a list of community partners and devote a large amount of time to developing your application between now and the June 20th, consider applying! This grant will allow you to address a large, varied number of student needs through a single project--including the integration of physical activity for students and their families throughout the 24-hour day and 12-month year.

Good luck to all applicants!