Schenectady

Schenectady school district launches new community schools initiative

KRISTINA HANDY/FOR THE DAILY GAZETTEDevon Wimberly, an innovation, equity and engagement specialist, speaks with various Schenectady business and organization leaders about the Schenectady City School District's community schools initiative which will spur local partnerships and bring needed resources to the Schenectady community.

KRISTINA HANDY/FOR THE DAILY GAZETTE

Devon Wimberly, an innovation, equity and engagement specialist, speaks with various Schenectady business and organization leaders about the Schenectady City School District's community schools initiative which will spur local partnerships and bring needed resources to the Schenectady community.

The Schenectady City School District launched a new initiative Thursday night that spurs partnerships with local businesses and organizations to transform the district’s schools into community schools.

Representatives from organizations like The Arc, the Schenectady City Ministries, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady gathered together with the Schenectady school district’s administration at the Liberty Church to discuss the first steps of building a network of community schools within the area. Each organization that decides to join the initiative would partner with the school district to bring much-needed resources to the Schenectady community.

“I think we’re rich in resources,” said Carlos M. Cotto, Jr., Schenectady school district’s assistant superintendent of innovation, equity and engagement. “It’s just connecting that — leading people to water is the easy part, it’s getting them to drink that becomes the challenge.”

According to the National Education Association, a community school is a public school that, with community connection and collaboration, provides services and support that cater to the unique needs of each neighborhood.

“A community school is a beacon of hope within our community, it is the one place that our families in our community can access all the information and the resources that they need,” said Cotto.

The typical components of a community school include adult education programs, Saturday programs, and various health and social services. The programs aim to benefit not only the student that attends these schools but also their families and the community as a whole.

“A community like Schenectady, we should be unified — we should have a synergistic approach to supporting our families,” said Schenectady City School District Superintendent of Schools Anibal Soler, Jr. “Nothing is off-limits, as long as it always benefits our kids and our families.”

With its 11 elementary schools, three middle schools, and one high school, the Schenectady administration hopes to transform as many of its schools into community schools as possible, making each a one-stop shop where families can find any resource that they need. 

The Schenectady school district will actively work together with Schenectady businesses and organizations to provide these resources, and each school will have different services based on the surrounding neighborhood’s needs.

“Every community is not going to need the same thing,” said Soler, Jr. “Not everyone is going to need the building open later, not everyone is going to need the building open on a Saturday, but in some places, they are going to need it and we got to figure out how to make that happen.”

Thursday’s meeting gave these local businesses and organizations the opportunity to learn more about the goals and plans for the initiative and to decide whether or not they want to join. 

One of the attending organizations, the Empire State Youth Orchestra, which hosts a variety of ensembles for young musicians across the Capital Region and Western New England, has already submitted a proposal to join the initiative. ESYO currently runs the CHIME program, a beginner music program that operates out of two of Schenectady’s elementary schools and at Proctors Theatre. Now, the organization hopes to begin a program in which students could come to engage with music, regardless of their playing level, every Saturday for 10 weeks.

“Schenectady is so different than Troy, Albany, wherever in that they have always embraced the arts so, even when they didn’t have the money for it, they never got rid of it,” said Rebecca Calos, executive director of ESYO. “Partnering with Schenectady is a no-brainer, they are just wonderful to work with.”

Madelyn Thorne, chief operating office and executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County, Inc. also attended Thursday’s meeting and she is excited to hopefully bring the organization into the initiative. 

“I think this is such an exciting, original idea,” said Thorne. “To me, the most important part of it is the children will know they’re not alone, the children will know their community wants them to succeed.”

In the next 12 weeks, the school district and the local organizations that want to participate will form an advisory committee and begin the steps to opening a community school by the beginning of the next school year in September.

Categories: News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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