GUEST COLUMN: Community schools initiative supports students, families

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By Angelo Santabarbara/For The Daily Gazette

No community is the same.

It’s important for our local schools to have priorities and services in place that meet the unique needs of the community they serve.

Last June, the Schenectady City School District (SCSD) set out to accomplish this feat and launched an initiative to transform the district’s public schools into community schools.

Comprised of 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and one high school, SCSD is attempting to transform as many of their schools into community schools as possible so every student and their family can benefit from this personalized learning model and access the resources they need to succeed.

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

These schools serve as a central hub for resources and support, including food assistance, clothing, weekend programming, health care and social services, after-school and adult education programs and initiatives to improve children’s well-being.

By facilitating partnerships with local businesses and organizations, I believe this initiative will improve our public schools and create programs that not only benefit our students, but also the entire community.

Partnering with community organizations and businesses allows community schools to centralize community activity, broadening the educational and experiential scope of learning that students are given access to through a more integrated approach.

These schools are often based on the Sustainable Community Schools (SCS) model, which focuses on the needs of students and their families and challenges the school to accept a new way of operating.

Community schools are also more flexible in the services they offer and, because the district actively collaborates with businesses in the area to provide these resources, each school will offer different services based on the specific needs of the surrounding community.

Recently, the Schenectady school district held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the newly unveiled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, which will be one of the district’s first community schools.

As a supporter of the community school model, in the state Assembly, I’ve supported funding to ensure these schools can offer these crucial resources students and teachers need.

More than 80 community organizations and local businesses have come together to learn how they can partner with the school district to deliver important services to the community.

Organizations like The Arc, the Schenectady City Ministries and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady, have reached out to discuss the first steps of turning SCSD into a network of community schools.

For example, the Empire State Youth Orchestra – one of the attending organizations that submitted a proposal to join the initiative – already runs a beginner music program that operates out of two of the city’s elementary schools and at Proctors Theatre.

As part of an integrated community school system, this organization would be able to offer a similar program for students, regardless of their playing level, to engage with music every Saturday for 10 weeks.

As your representative at our state capitol, you can be sure I’ll continue fighting to ensure our students and families have access to the services and resources they need to thrive.

Angelo Santabarbara represents the 111th District in the New York State Assembly.

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Categories: Guest Column, Opinion, Opinion, Rotterdam, Schenectady

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