The state has given the Schenectady City School District a $2.4 million grant to try out an idea that could turn elementary schools into far more than just places for learning math and reading.
Lincoln Elementary School will become a hub for other services, including mental health counseling, a community health center, and career training for parents.
Lincoln will work with Ellis Hospital and Northeast Parent and Child Society to create the special services.
The school will also use some of the grant to offer extra help to students who are not performing at grade level.
The School Innovation Fund grant requires districts to redesign an entire school.
Superintendent Laurence Spring has spoken extensively about mental health services, saying many of Schenectady’s students need therapy to help them deal with the traumas they have seen and experienced while living in intense poverty.
“Intense poverty deals like a trauma to kids,” Spring said at the beginning of the school year. “After a fire, a kid acts up in class and we say, ‘Oh my god, he just had a horrible thing happen to him.’ We respond a little differently.”
Recent studies indicate that children in poverty feel as off-balance, fearful and uncertain as children who have just experienced a sudden trauma. But traumatized children routinely get counseling, while poor children do not, Spring said.
He has lobbied for more money to provide therapy for thousands of Schenectady’s children, saying the district cannot otherwise afford it.
“We don’t have enough resources to address all the mental health needs,” Spring said.
He has also reached out to nonprofit groups to form partnerships to provide that therapy.
Offering services for parents has also been a goal for school officials for many years. Some of the city’s schools have offered classes for parents occasionally, but this will formalize the effort.
Lincoln will serve as a pilot program, which school officials hope to expand if it is successful.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said Schenectady was chosen because of its needy students.
“We’re putting School Innovation Fund grants into schools where students need the most support,” King said. “The goal of the Board of Regents Reform Agenda is to make sure every student in New York graduates from high school with the skills to succeed in college and careers. These grants will help move us closer to that goal.”
Schenectady’s graduation rate was 58 percent for last year’s class, which is one percentage point below where it was in 2010 and five percentage points below the goal set by the state for 2011. The state standard for graduation rates is 80 percent.
Spring asked school officials to take a close look at first-quarter report cards this month to get an idea of where the problems begin.
According to first-quarter grades, only 44 percent of the district’s first-graders are reading at grade level.
And very few of them ever catch up. Only 57 percent of the district’s sixth-graders are reading on grade level right now.