Community schools programs hailed; additional funding urged statewide

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Continued investments in community school programs to enable students to succeed under new COVID-19 protocols are being called for by the New York State Community Schools Network.

Current state and regional investments to support the community schools strategy must be strengthened to ensure that efforts to reopen schools are comprehensive and support the well-being of students, families, and communities, according to an announcement Tuesday.

The announcement said a recent network policy brief, “Community Schools: An Evidence-Based, Effective Strategy for Reopening New York Schools,” points out that students and families need more wraparound services to overcome challenges of the pandemic, and community schools specialize in coordinating and delivering such services under adverse circumstances.

The community schools concept involves using schools as a hub for connecting children and families with essential services including access to technology, food, afterschool care and mental health services.

The announcement said community schools have been fulfilling a wide array of needs to help students, especially students in underserved communities, continue to learn and thrive throughout the pandemic.

“We are at the table assisting with reopening plans,” said Melissa Roys, Executive Director of the Rome Alliance for Education — Connected Community Schools Initiative. “Having our model already embedded and our partners in place put us steps ahead when responding to the pandemic. Connected Community Schools had existing relationships with over 90 community agencies and resources, so we were able to organize quickly and work collaboratively.”

The Rome program has received funding assistance from the American Federation of Teachers, and also has been assisted by local donations such as food and clothing as well as financially, plus volunteers. State financial aid projections in March for the 2020-21 year included a $369,655 community schools set-aside for the Rome school district. District Superintendent Peter C. Blake, who praised the local Connected Community Schools initiative at a Board of Education meeting last month, has said districts may see overall state aid reductions due to the COVID-19 situation.

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said the community schools policy brief “highlights the ways community schools are in a unique position, one that has been advantageous for the schools and the communities they serve.”

She added “they have the framework and supports in place to address the academic, physical and mental health and social service needs of the community....There must be a resurgence of funding and support for community schools as we emphasize their value as schools reopen.”

New York State Network for Youth Success Executive Director Kelly Sturgis said “community schools are a good investment—especially given the uncertainties and needs presented by the reopening of the new school year during a pandemic.”

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