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NYSUT brings campaign for more community schools to Buffalo

Melinda Person, executive director of New York State United Teachers, speaks while visiting Dr. Lydia T. Wright School in Buffalo Friday, March 11
Malik Abdus-Sabr Jr.
Melinda Person, executive director of New York State United Teachers, speaks while visiting Dr. Lydia T. Wright School in Buffalo Friday, March 11.

New York State United Teachers is campaigning for the creation of more community school models. The head of the statewide teachers union visited Buffalo Friday to observe two of the city’s community schools, while stating the case to add more.

NYSUT executive director Melinda Person visited West Hertel Academy and Dr. Lydia Wright School, joined by educators, Buffalo public school district officials, parents, and community advocates. The union, which represents 600,000 members statewide, is calling for a $100 million state investment to create more community schools, which provide services beyond basic education.

“They are built and tailored to the needs of a particular community. Whatever are the obstacles to learning in a community, the community school attempts to remove them,” Person explained. “They provide food, health care, mental health services, some even provide laundry services for families. Whatever the obstacles are to learning for families and kids, they take them out of the picture so that kids can succeed.”

Person suggests the model needs to be introduced to more students at the elementary school level. Supporters of the community school model say before a child can really succeed academically, basic needs must first be adequately addressed.

At Dr. Lydia Wright School, faculty offer opportunities and spaces for students to work through emotional needs, including finding constructive ways to express and address them. The school features a “mindfulness room,” where students may learn yoga techniques to help them work through frustrations.

Another popular program the school provides is Saturday Academy, which allows many students and their families opportunities to enjoy each other’s company while participating in various activities.

“During the Saturday Academy, they are able to come in here and build that social emotional component. They also provide meals and activities and they do different activities,” said Elizabeth Slawek, a sixth grade teacher at the school. “For Halloween, they did a ‘trunk or treat’ activity. We kind of try to focus on some of the things that the families may want to participate in the community, and we just provide it right here at our school, so anyone can come. The teachers come, they bring their families, it's just a nice way to build that community.”

NYSUT estimates fewer than 300 of the more than 700 public school districts within New York State utilize the community school model. Person says a public investment in a community school yields a significant return.

“Not only is this good for families and good for kids, it's also a responsible investment of resources. Every dollar that's invested in community schools has a return of six or seven dollars, Person said. “That's what the research is showing. And so this is a smart investment. It's a good use of our state's dollars. And we think that it will transform education, public education in the State of New York.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.