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Joy Dryfoos, 86; championed full-service community schools

Joy Dryfoos traveled the country visiting schools and youth programs to learn what programs worked.handout

Joy Dryfoos envisioned a school experience in which children would study more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also would learn to maintain good physical and mental health, and they would take part in school activities with their parents and families.

In 1998, she told the Globe that because attempts to improve education in the United States had fallen short, about 25 percent of children were at risk of failing to complete their schooling because of health, social, or emotional reasons.

“The bottom line is, schools cannot do it alone,’’ she wrote in a 2006 letter to the editor of the Globe calling for increased collaboration between schools, social service agencies, and health professionals.


“We cannot expect schools to solve all the problems of families in crisis-ridden cities,’’ wrote Mrs. Dryfoos, then a steering committee member of the Full-Service Schools Roundtable, a Boston-based coalition of public and private institutions. “Full-service community schools have the capacity to bring together in one space the resources and personnel that can strengthen both the school and the community.’’

Mrs. Dryfoos, a pioneer in the community schools movement, died of cardiac arrest March 18 in her home. She was 86 and had lived in Brookline the past several years.

“Joy was the mother of the community school,’’ said Catalina Montes of Boston, who for many years was principal of what is now called Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston.

“When children’s basic needs are being cared for, they are better prepared to learn,’’ Montes said. “They come with smiling faces. The children are Joy’s best legacy.’’

The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, praised Mrs. Dryfoos’s book, “Full-Service Schools: A Revolution in Health and Social Services for Children, Youth and Families.’’

“As Joy Dryfoos makes clear, more services under the school roof mean better education, too,’’ Kennedy wrote in a blurb for the book. “Putting real social services in schools means more teachers can stop being part-time social workers and start being full-time teachers again.’’


People from across the country wanted to meet Mrs. Dryfoos when she was a speaker featured during multiple national conferences at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said Margot Welch of Cambridge, who served with Mrs. Dryfoos on the Full-Service Schools Roundtable steering committee.

Full-service schools create partnerships with institutions such as universities, hospitals, and social services. Grants and foundations help with expenses. The schools become centers of the community and are open nights and weekends.

Mrs. Dryfoos did not start out as an advocate for community schools.

“Joy would always describe herself as an activist masquerading as a researcher,’’ said Jane Quinn of the Children’s Aid Society in New York City. “What she meant by that was that her research was all in the cause of social justice, which fueled her enthusiasm. Joy really started her career as a researcher, and became interested in adolescent pregnancy.’’

Paul Dryfoos of Brookline said that in 1969, his mother became director of research and planning at the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research organization, where “for more than 10 years, she was instrumental in developing the national policy agenda around teen pregnancy prevention.’’

He said in a eulogy that she left the institute in 1981 “to take a more holistic approach to adolescent health and well-being. With support from the Carnegie Corporation and others, she traveled the country visiting schools and youth programs to learn what works and how to make it happen.’’


In the introduction to “Inside Full-Service Community Schools,’’ a 2002 book she coauthored with Sue Maguire, Mrs. Dryfoos wrote that “schools were not in my focus until one day in 1983.’’

While visiting a health department in Jackson, Miss., to discuss family planning, someone invited her to visit a school-based primary health clinic.

“A clinic in a school?’’ she wrote. “Were they kidding?’’

Mrs. Dryfoos wrote that she was impressed to see “a fully equipped clinic with a white-capped nurse practitioner. Students were pouring into the space and receiving primary health care that included sports examinations, pregnancy tests, asthma treatments, and whatever else they required. This made so much sense. The students were already in the building.’’

Mary E. Walsh, a professor in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, said Mrs. Dryfoos “understood that the out-of-school factors related to poverty had a negative impact on children’s achievement and thriving.’’

Though Mrs. Dryfoos “was a firm believer in the critical role of good teaching, she also believed that schools should play a role in addressing the ‘whole child’ by bringing health and human services and enrichment opportunities to the school, particularly during after-school and summer hours,’’ Walsh said.

“She helped significantly when Boston College partnered with the Gardner in Allston to develop the first full-service community school in Boston in the mid-’90s,’’ Walsh added.

Born Joy Gidding in Plainfield, N.J., Mrs. Dryfoos grew up in a family with “a strong social conscience,’’ her son said.


She went to Antioch College in the early 1940s, he said in his eulogy, adding that “I understand she was somewhat of a casual student, but a great adventurer. Mom was a basketball coach at a YWCA, a counselor at a settlement house in New York, and a cook at a conscientious objectors’ camp in North Dakota.’’

She also collected friends.

“I believe it’s because she truly delighted in other people, cared about them, and found the human mosaic endlessly fascinating,’’ he said.

A few credits short of graduating, she left Antioch in 1947 to attend a world youth congress in Prague. After six months, her mother went to Prague, “took her on a luxury tour of Europe, and brought her home,’’ her son said in his eulogy.

She returned to Antioch and earned a degree in sociology in 1951.

While living in New York City, she met George Dryfoos, a former Army officer who lived across the hall. They married in 1949 and moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., in 1953. Mr. Dryfoos died in 2002.

Mrs. Dryfoos received a master’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied urban sociology. She started a small consulting firm, Research, Writing and Editing Associates, in the 1960s before joining the Guttmacher Institute.

A service has been held for Mrs. Dryfoos, who in addition to her son leaves two grandchildren.

Welch said one of her favorite stories about Mrs. Dryfoos involved a principal in New Jersey who wanted to better serve the children in her school by engaging their parents.


Mrs. Dryfoos decided that the first step “was to meet parents’ needs and get them into the school building,’’ Welch said. “They installed washing machines and dryers, and that was the beginning of a very strong, full-service school program.’’

Gloria Negri can be reached at negri@globe.com.