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Schenectady City School District, students hail new community schools program

Ted Remsnyder, The Daily Gazette
Posted 12/31/22

A new Schenectady City School District program will allow students at five elementary schools to take advantage of extended after school hours.

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Schenectady City School District, students hail new community schools program


SCHENECTADY — A new Schenectady City School District program will allow students at five elementary schools to take advantage of extended after school hours in an effort to turn the sites into community hubs.

The district hailed the launch of its new community schools program at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning at Dr. Martin King Jr. Elementary School.

The program, currently offered at King Elementary, William C. Keane Elementary, Hamilton Elementary, Paige Elementary, and Van Corlear Elementary, will offer extended day programming to pupils at the five buildings in partnership with dozens of community partners.

Each participating location has after school offerings that last two to three hours each school day, with students receiving a hot dinner before the schools close at 6 p.m.

Schenectady Superintendent of Schools Anibal Soler said Wednesday that he’ll measure program success in metrics beyond student participation.

“At the end of the day, I think we’re going to want to look at our academic outcomes,” he said following the Wednesday event. “We know there are gaps that need to be filled for kids to focus on school. If you look at the body of research around community schools, they typically begin to perform better academically because there are gaps being filled when it comes to some of the challenges that we face in a community like Schenectady. Whether it’s housing, clothing or food security issues, when we start taking care of that, we can focus on school and so can the kids. So, ultimately, that will be our measure, to see how we’re doing on state performances, what our suspension rates are and how our attendance looks.”

The district plans to offer Saturday programs at all five schools in the coming year.

“The Saturdays will be coming, we’re just lining up the partners,” Soler said. “We’ll have a three-hour window on Saturdays, from say 9 a.m. to noon, where the kids will get breakfast and lunch and they’ll have some enrichment and adult programming as well. That will be the next phase of it.”

The superintendent said the funding for the program is sustainable, with community partners including Schenectady Inner City Ministry, My Daughters and Me and the Schenectady County Department of Social Services Daycare Unit teaming up with the district to provide programming for the initiative.

“In our general fund, we get Community Schools set aside money, which the state appropriates right in our regular formula,” Soler said. “We get about $1.1 million and then we’ve pursued mental health grants and other things to supplement some of the partnerships. We also looked at some of our American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to also supplement and get our initiative kicked off. But at the end of the day we get that set aside and what had happened in the past is that money wasn’t necessarily used for the [Community Schools] initiative, it was used to cover other expenses. But now, I’ve prioritized to use it for what it’s intended.”

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy hailed the community schools program. “We have a great school district with a proud history,” McCarthy said. “It’s got tremendous diversity and it produces just sheer brilliance that a lot of times just gets lost in the lack of messaging. This is going to give us, as a community, an opportunity to open things up and challenge ourselves to create a vision and a transformational engagement that is going to move the Schenectady school district back to the level it once had a couple of decades ago where it was number one in the region and state.”

Raheem Watson, parent of two children at King Elementary, said he is grateful for the district’s after school program. “My kids like the program and they come home and tell me about it,” he said. “Especially after the COVID thing, it gives them a chance to reunite with other kids, find their place and be together as one.”

Community School Coordinator Kayla Ambesi said the district is seeking medical and dental partners to offer clinics to students and local families via the after school program.

India Boyke, fourth-grade student at King Elementary, said she enjoyed participating in the community schools initiative. “I like it here because this school wants us to feel like a family and I like the after school too,” she said.

Community School Coordinator Ryan Williams noted that the district has been working on the design, development and implementation of the program since the 2021-22 school year.

“The community school model is one that’s been around for 30 years in New York state and it’s a proven and time-tested strategy that strengthens community through intentional partnerships and dedicated champions within the school district staff,” he said.

Soler, who said he hopes to eventually expand the program district wide, urged the community to participate in the after school programs.

“These schools will only rise up to the level that we want as a community,” he said, “which does mean you have to put a little sweat equity into it. You do have to commit. You can’t just sit on the sidelines and criticize or make comments. You’ve gotta get involved and get engaged. That’s what community schools are about. We’ll have a seat for you at the table and if you want to be part of the solution we’re here to work with you because, at the end of the day, our families win and our kids win. If our kids win, we change the trajectory and narrative of what Schenectady is.”

Schenectady City Council President Marion Porterfield said Wednesday that she believes that the district program will be beneficial to students.

“I think it’s important because there are a lot of parents who need additional support for their children because they’re working,” she said. “So to have community schools where they know that their children are safe and are in a place where they can socialize and be fed is important. It’s really about the community supporting our children and then the children feel more a part of the community. So I think it’s a great concept and I expect the children to thrive under it.”


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