ROCHESTER, N.Y. April 14, 2022 — Area educators and New York State United Teachers leaders joined with school officials, legislators and community groups in the Rochester area today to highlight the successes of local community schools and advocate for more districts to adopt this game-changing model that helps students and families address the deeply rooted challenges they face that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Getting back to ‘normal’ isn’t good enough for our students — it’s time we demand a public education system that truly supports every child,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “When children face poverty, when their families face food insecurity, when they don’t have access to health care or social services, they don’t come to school ready to learn in the first place. That’s where community schools change the game, helping students and families thrive.”
Visiting schools in Rochester and Greece on Thursday, officials highlighted why expanding the number of community schools is a cornerstone of NYSUT’s Future Forward campaign, and how the success seen in these districts underscores why that is so critical.
In Rochester, 22 schools have adopted the community school model, with offerings that run the gamut from food distribution, pantry and meal programs to enriching after school and summer learning programs. That work is made possible through partnerships with a number of community groups, including Foodlink, Rochester Regional Health, The Center for Youth and Hillside, among others.
Similarly, in suburban Greece, nearly 150 community partners support the district’s community schools program, providing volunteers, financial support and donations that go toward a wide array of offerings. Students and families have access to services and enrichment opportunities that run the gamut, from in-school mental health and dental care to a food and clothing pantry to a parent center through which families can access resources and supports. Through the first semester of the 2021-22 school year, 575 elementary students have participated in clubs that engage students in cooking, mentorship, tutoring, community service, STEAM and art, among other subjects. And hundreds received holiday meals and visited the district’s food pantry, while more than 200 families have accessed the parent helpline.
“Community Schools in Rochester are the pillars to building and strengthening educational opportunities for student success,” said Dr. Lesli Myers-Small, Rochester City School District superintendent. “Strong family and community partnerships in our 22 community schools support academic development, personal growth and responsibility. Our educational approach involves challenging academic content and providing 21st century skills and competencies that support student achievement.”
“Implementing the community schools strategy has enabled us to get to know our students and families on a deeper level,” Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman said. “Students and families told us early on that they needed more from us than just academics. As a result, we’ve added on-site food pantries, free afterschool and summer programs, mental health services, and welcomed dozens of new community partners into our schools to support students and families. These additional programs and services have expanded learning opportunities and allowed us to be more responsive to the true needs of students and families. Community schools empower families, school staff and members of community organizations to work together to find common sense solutions to real world challenges. Doing so helps us all thrive.”
Statewide, just less than 300 out of more than 700 school districts utilize the community school model. More districts adopting this model and hiring community school coordinators — invaluable staff who can both help develop community school programming and dedicate themselves to triage work connecting families in need with services not provided by the school itself — is a smart investment. Nationally, a 2019 study from the ABC Community School Partnership estimated for every $1 invested in establishing a community school and hiring a site coordinator, the average return on investment was roughly $7.
Legislative allies are standing with educators and communities in advocating for more community schools.
“I fully support the community schools model,” state Sen. Jeremy Cooney said. “The Greater Rochester region needs expansion of this program. When schools are the center of our community, students and their families have better access to services giving everyone a greater chance of long-term academic success.”
“Community schools are the lifeblood of Rochester offering a holistic approach to educating students by acting as community hubs and offering wraparound services including academic, health, mental health, social services and afterschool programs to students and their families,” Assemblymember Harry Bronson said. “As a member of the Assembly’s Education Committee, I fought for and helped secure $250 million in Community School Aid. This funding will ensure the future of community schools as our families and students recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Our communities know what’s best for our kids, as they know what services and solutions are proven to work locally to maximize success for all students. That’s why it’s critically important that we create schools through which the specific needs of any given community are being met through in-school services and partnerships with the providers families can rely on,” Assemblymember Josh Jensen said. “I look forward to continuing to work with local stakeholders to make sure our students, teachers, staff and schools are receiving the funding and programs they need to make sure our next generation of leaders have the tools they need to thrive.”
“Community schools are a great resource for recognizing and meeting the holistic needs of our students in preparing for the future,” Assemblymember Demond Meeks said. “That begins with an integrated focus not only on academics, but health, family, and youth development in our schools. It involves linking families to meaningful services within our community and allowing our students to focus on learning. Collectively, we must work to provide support to the children that need it most and prepare them for success.”
Rochester and Greece are the latest in a series of stops NYSUT has made this year to highlight the success of community schools and how expanding the number of community schools statewide would dramatically impact all communities, from urban centers to rural towns.
More information on the union’s Future Forward campaign is available at futureforwardny.org.
Future Forward: Learning from Community School Success Stories in Rochester
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.