Madison schools join Connected Community Schools effort
MADISON — Imagine, as a student, not having to worry about basic needs so you can excel in your academics and social wellbeing. That’s what Connected Community Schools (CCS) hopes to provide students through its most recent partnership with Madison Central School District (MCSD).
“All you have to do, at least for the adults in the room, is look around you to see why we’re here. We’re here about our students,” said Superintendent Jason Mitchell during a ribbon cutting ceremony with students, faculty, staff, and local officials including state Sen. Rachel May, D-53, Syracuse, and Assemblyman John Salka, R-121, Brookfield, to celebrate the partnership on Thursday.
While teachers and other staff have always gone above and beyond to help students in the ways that they can, Mitchell said, the pandemic has especially exacerbated that need, and what the school or individuals can provide on their own has always been limited. Now, with CCS, lifting others up is so much easier.
“A Connect School is, in a nutshell, everyone working together to make sure that no one really has enormous struggles or worries,” explained Melissa Roys, CCS executive director.
With the help of an on-site staff member assigned to the district, Connected Community Schools, contracted through BOCES, will help to coordinate, streamline, and deliver needed services in areas such as food insecurity along with medical, dental, and mental health support to students and families so that they have the best possible opportunity to succeed.
If a student needs sneakers, they can get them. If pantry shelves at home are in short supply, groceries are on hand. If they’re hungry before soccer practice, students can always have a meal.
Services can be accessed on-site at MCSD through the newly-established CCS Hub, located in what was previously a family and consumer science classroom. In addition to providing a starting point for support services, the Hub can provide students and families with no-cost essentials such as food items, hygiene needs, school supplies, and more. The Hub is also equipped with a stove, laundry station, fridge, clothing selection, and even formal wear for prom season. Everything is available to any student or family with need.
“We take care of the struggles and worries so that you guys can sit in math class and maybe even enjoy it because you don’t have anything else to be worried about,” Roys said to students at the celebration ceremony.
A majority of the physical resources available in the Hub have been provided by community partners, like CNY Food Bank, Walmart, local businesses, and even individual families, explained Danielle Martin, CCS VP of integrated children’s services.
MCSD is the 13th school district to become a part of the CCS network. Collectively, CCS serves 53 school buildings and over 20,000 students across the region. This creates a band of mutual resources that can give-and-take across schools, depending on need. Martin provided an example of one generous student in Rome who donated 1,000 pairs of socks that were dispersed across multiple districts to those in need.
Having resources on-hand also alleviates a burden teachers often take on themselves, Martin explained. “Teachers see a student struggling, they [often] pull it out of pocket to get [what they need]. So now they can come in and pull from the resources here instead of their own pocket and provide it to their students.”
The Hub, with its casual and welcoming atmosphere, serves as an accessible home-base for students to build relationships with its staff members while destigmatizing the need for things like food. Mitchell says since it’s opened March 1, he’s noticed students already making themselves at home. During an open house after the celebration ceremony, students could be seen lounging, playing games, beating bongos, and grabbing a snack.
“I hope that their comfort here to come for snacks or play Connect Four in a study hall or just to hangout in a study hall leads to, down the road, their comfort if they need something a little more than a snack,” Mitchell said.
There’s so much that the Hub can offer not only students, but their families as well. In addition to on-site assistance, CCS staff, with their relationships to community agencies, can serve as liaisons for students and families to access other services available in the region. “There’s a ton of resources and supports, but people just don’t know how to navigate them,” or they don’t know about them at all, Martin said.
With the recent area power outages, CCS has helped provide families with ice to prevent food from spoiling, replacements for food that’s gone bad, and a place to cook or do laundry, Mitchell said.
The Hub is regularly open to students Monday-Friday during school hours. Additionally, CCS can provide services over academic breaks, including summer vacation.
Looking to the future, a potential partnership with Mosaic Dental may soon bring on-site dental services to MCSD with the help of CCS. If families don’t have dental insurance, CCS and Mosaic may be able to help eliminate barriers to care, Mitchell said.
To learn more, visit connectedcommunityschools.org.
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