It only took a handful of years for five community partnerships to grow into a roster of more than 400 tools and services available to students and families at Central Valley Academy.
NYSUT president Melinda Person toured the flourishing community high school in Ilion on Tuesday, alongside state legislators Sens. Shelley Mayer, Rachel May and Jim Tedisco; and Assemblymembers Marianne Buttenschon and Harry Bronson.
The tour launched NYSUT’s reinvigorated push for funding and awareness to expand the community schools model. NYSUT is asking for a $100 million investment in the coming state budget to expand the community schools model across the state.
“This is an investment in our school children on the front end,” Person said. “If you want clean streets, if you want empty prisons, if you want a thriving community and public education system, you invest in community schools. Because they invest in communities and support students’ needs wherever they come from.”
The crux of the community school model at Central Valley Academy is called the Hub, a physical space where students and services are linked.
At the Hub, more than 600 students in the building are welcome to physical resources they might need — clean clothes, food, hygiene products — with no questions asked and no stigma attached. The Hub is also a space where students — particularly those who may lack the kind of connections found through extracurriculars or athletics — can go to be seen and heard in various student-driven “Hub Clubs.”
The mood is “grab what you need and find a place to belong” said Melissa Roys, Co-Executive Director at Connected Community Schools. CCS is a network that started in Rome in 2016 with support from an American Federation of Teachers grant. It now branches across 14 districts in seven counties. Central Valley School District joined and began implementing the model in 2021.
Regular interaction in the Hub can make it easier for the community school coordinators to identify students who are struggling or have additional needs at home.
In the Central Valley School District, where 75 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, many of the factors impacting student learning and social climate are directly related to poverty.
Community schools seek to support the full child and family by making sure they can access available services, which span across mental health counseling, financial literacy classes, gym access, doctors, dentists and housing. Emphasizing those outlying supports has affected the way educators interact with students, said Tara Vancauwenberge, president of the Central Valley Teachers Association.
“In the classroom my plan of action shifted to … ‘Oh boy, let's make sure you have some breakfast. Because I’m pretty sure you haven’t had any,'” she said.
The goal is to avoid “Band-Aid” fixes, and to create sustainable solutions by coordinating ancillary factors to accessing services, such as transportation for students scattered in rural areas of the Mohawk Valley. That’s what trusted CCS staff do on location, said Superintendent Jeremy Rich, which gives educators the ability to focus on their in-school roles.
And when students’ needs are being met, hallways are calmer, attendance increases, and both educators and students can focus on teaching and learning.
“It’s not that teachers can’t do it; it's not that our guidance counselors can’t do it,” said Rich. “But teachers — their job is teaching kids during the day. Now we have dedicated personnel helping us with that outreach, where we can pass the baton, give them the [student’s] background story, and they take it from there.”