Community Schools initiative hailed for ‘astonishing’ successes

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For the Connected Community Schools initiative, the recently completed 2019-20 school year brought unprecedented challenges but also “an astonishing and humbling number of successes” for the program, says its “Year in Review” summary issued last week.

The initiative, which last August changed its name to Connected Community Schools to reflect a wider reach after starting in the Rome school district about three years before that, has included various services to help meet student and family needs. “Through mass flooding, house fires, domestic violence, extreme winter weather, and now a pandemic, Connected Community Schools has continued to push through each obstacle (to) assist those in need,” the report said. “It is in that manner, together and as a Connected Community, that we persevere.”

The program has included schools acting as “hubs” providing on-site links for various local agencies to assist students and families. After schools closed in mid-March due to COViD-19, the initiative continued its efforts with such services as food distribution programs for communities. In addition, it created a 2020 virtual summer program of activities and programming for children and school districts in conjunction with several participating agencies.

Rome school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake praised the initiative at the Board of Education’s July 23 meeting during his presentation on a plan being compiled to reopen schools.

“The Connected Community Schools piece is huge for us” relative to a social/emotional well-being category for the plan, said Blake. The plan will include “data relative to the work Connected Community Schools has done relative to helping students and families with different needs,” he said, “whether it be social/emotional, access to dental, access to health care, access to attorneys....food, clothing....They’ve been doing a lot of work for us there.”

Calling the program a “huge component of this plan,” Blake said “not every school district has access to a very robust community schools program.” He offered a “shout-out” to program Executive Director Melissa Roys and her team.

The Connected Community Schools initiative has included a partnership among the Rome Alliance for Education non-profit organization, Safe Schools Mohawk Valley, and CNY Health Homes Network. It has received funding assistance from the American Federation of Teachers, including a $350,000 grant announced last November to expand the concept into additional school districts of Waterville, Webb and Dolgeville, plus $300,000 in previous AFT awards. It also has been assisted by local donations such as food and clothing as well as financially, plus volunteers.

“Our Connected Community Schools program is nationally renowned,” Blake said in his school board presentation. He commented the AFT “gives this group a lot of credit around the country for the work that they have done,” adding “we thank them for their partnership.”

Among highlights in the program’s “Year in Review” document:

• 27,543 students, parents and community members fed through school-based pantries;

• 741 outgoing referrals and connections to various services and agencies for students and families in need;

• Through its Community Kids Market Place, 20,758 pounds of food distributed prior to COVID-19, and 201,146 pounds distributed since then;

• 47-plus hours of after-school activities, community engagement, and adult education;

• A 2020 virtual summer program including speakers/educators, self-directed activities, and interactive programming. Participating agencies include Cornell Cooperative Extension, Safe Schools Mohawk Valley, Opioid Prevention Education, Mohawk Valley Community College, Central NY Health Homes Network.

• Expansion from a two-employee team in 2018 focusing on Bellamy Elementary School, to a 15-employee team in 2020 including involvement in all Rome school district buildings plus two schools each in Waterville and Dolgeville plus one in Webb.

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