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Community schools – a worthwhile investment

In many localities, community schools are a game changer for students and families. They serve as a hub for accessing vital resources like health care, social services, child-care and job training. They help schools move toward educational equality by providing support for students and families who lack stable housing, food and internet access. And they build partnership at the community, state and national level, allowing communities to tap into a wider range of resources.

The many benefits they provide is why NYSUT is calling on state officials and lawmakers to increase the number of community schools statewide as part of our Future Forward campaign. This spring we’re visiting community schools to highlight the value they bring to communities.

We’ve stopped by community schools like the Dr. Weeks Elementary School in Syracuse, where over 70 percent of its students receive care through its on-site health center. The school also offers a community closet, a parent and community room, before and after-school programming and a food bank that serves the needs of over 100 students every weekend.

We also visited Saranac Lake High School and Petrova Elementary School in Saranac Lake. Since becoming community schools four years ago, the district has joined with 20 community partners to deliver an array of services. These include internet assistance, a weekend food program, before- and after-school childcare and telehealth, dental and eye care.

Thanks to those community partnerships, more than 200 students and family members received emergency food pantry assistance through the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity and nearly 550 community members received help through Feeding America. Roughly 70 students annually participate in the district’s weekend backpack program, and 20 families receive monthly food, shelter, utility, health care and other assistance through Community Connections of Franklin County.

We heard similar success stories at Buffalo’s West Hertel Academy and Lydia T. Wright School. Both are part of Buffalo’s network of 24 community schools. They offer health clinics, parent centers and the popular Saturday Academy program which is attended by more than 11,000 students, parents and community members throughout the school year. Buffalo community schools also offer wellness and legal clinics, virtual and in-person workshops and other resources in partnership with community organizations like “Say Yes Buffalo.”

Replicating these kinds of success stories statewide is possible, but it takes money. That’s why NYSUT is advocating for more annual state funding to expand the state’s community school network.

Less than 300 out of more than 700 New York state school districts employ the community school model. And that’s a shame -- community schools are smart investments that provide tangible benefits to students, their families and the community. A 2019 study by the ABC Community School Partnership found that for every $1 invested in establishing a community school and hiring a site coordinator, the average return on investment was roughly $7.

When children face poverty, when their families face food insecurity and when they don’t have access to health care or social services, students don’t come to school ready to learn. Community schools provide more than just an education — they build strong relationships with families and provide care for the whole child. It’s time we demand a public education system that truly supports every child. It’s time to expand New York state’s network of community schools.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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