Local Matters

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Community Schools Initiative

February 9, 2021 - 6:40pm

With little fanfare, the Batavia City School District staff has taken on a strategy to help families in need as part of an overall effort to care for the whole child and to become a greater asset to the community.

A former kindergarten room at Robert Morris School has been converted into a community center where children and parents can get assistance not just with school work but with many life needs -- from doing the laundry to ensuring everybody has appropriate clothing.

Julie Wasilewski, a district social worker, and Julia Rogers, Batavia High School assistant principal, have spearheaded the effort. They presented the community center idea to the Board of Education during Monday's meeting as part of a presentation of the new Batavia Community Schools Initiative.

The initiative is described as a reform strategy "to promote child well-being, student success, and educational equality."

(NOTE: The school board meeting was held via Zoom and Wasilewski and Rogers were on a shared device and it was impossible to see who was talking when and so quotes are generically attributed to "she said.")

"Community schools are for student education and development," she said. "They are a place where we fundamentally pay special attention to and ensure students' physical, medical, safety, their social-emotional needs are met. When we meet these needs, families can then fully engage in the opportunities afforded by public school education."

A great school is one that cares for the whole town, they said. It involves working with residents throughout the community to support learning. It includes not just educating children but educating parents. 

"We're powered by strong relationships with agencies, businesses, health care providers, clubs and organizations," she said. "Every family and community member can be leveraged as an asset to children's lives. So far, we have 82 of these arrangements with community leaders who are willing to extend the power of their organizations."

The new engagement center is one part of the plan, but so far it's the most concrete effort to serve the community.

"When a family enters the family community engagement center, they are treated with the utmost respect and compassion, regardless of whether they are making optimal life decisions or maintaining a sober lifestyle," she said. "Four hundred and 16 donations have been made to children ... clothing, school supplies, hygiene products, toys, books, housewares, bedding, and food. The closet contains appropriate clothing so an individual can be successful and feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, both in school and in the community."

"There is no Batavia community member who has to skip an interview or a day of work because they don't have appropriate clothing," she said.

Shoes are available to children so they always have something appropriate to wear on the playground or walking outside.

A recent example of how the engagement center assisted community members outside of a school environment was when Tammy Hathaway from United Way contacted the center looking for 30 winter coats. The coats were donated to GCASA because people who are waiting for their methadone treatment are required, because of COVID-19, to wait outside.

The initiative comes at a time when schools are already required to adjust to meet student needs.

"Amid the hardships of COVID-19, community schools have readily adapted to changing conditions and needs, devising innovative mechanisms to deliver food, technology, health care, and other essential services to support student learning and well-being," she said.

Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. called it a "win-win" for the community.

"Batavia is one of those communities where you grow up here, you live here, everyone knows everyone, and everyone wants to support everyone, but we don't always have the conduit to do it," Soler said. "So the hope is the school becomes the hub for the conduit. The school becomes the hub for the community."

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