Imagine going to school hungry, or not wanting to go home due to a lack of heat or water. Now imagine having those same issues and also having someone you can talk to about it who can help.
In six school districts around Ottawa Area ISD there is such a person. And that person is a Community School Coordinator.
Facilitated through the Ottawa Community Schools Network (OCSN), participating schools, also known as “Community Schools,” actively partner with local business and community organizations to support students and their families. Whether it is the Community School Coordinator who always has a listening ear, or a team behind the scenes ensuring a family doesn’t lose electricity, Community Schools are invested in the welfare and academic success of students.
Coordinators work in their district schools every day to ensure the whole child is addressed by providing what are known as “wrap-around services,” such as health care, afterschool tutoring, school meals and so much more.
Coopersville Area Public Schools, for example, is home to three Community Schools: Coopersville East Elementary, South Elementary, and West Early Childhood Center. To meet the needs of all families, Community School Leadership Teams meet monthly to leverage community resources to tackle student, family, and school-wide needs. Members include school administration and staff, OCSN coordinators, parents, local pastors, Northeast Ottawa Forum on Drug and Alcohol Awareness counselor, the Director of Kids Hope USA mentorship program, and representatives from Coopersville Area Community Foundation, Coopersville District Library, Migrant English Language Learners Support, North Ottawa Community Health System, Love Inc, Coopersville Cares and more.
The Community School Coordinator at Coopersville East Elementary and West Early Childhood Center can be found in her office every day with crafts and snacks. Students are welcome to stop in anytime and talk with her about school or home issues they are struggling with. She visits classrooms regularly to make her presence known and proactively discusses age-appropriate topics.
One recent success includes the Coopersville Community School Leadership Team finding resources for a family living without heat or plumbing. Through this supportive team, free legal aid was brought to the home of a single mom to help with the child support process. Additionally, she received assistance with a state emergency relief application to fund furnace repairs, and a new partnership with Coopersville Plumber's Union was formed to have skilled volunteers complete the plumbing repairs at no cost for labor or supplies.
Caroline Geist, Director for OCSN, says schools have typically been at the center of a community providing a common thread that connects families. “As communities grow, so do their needs, and many continue to look to schools to meet those needs. And that’s when the Ottawa Community Schools Network is invited in by participating schools and districts throughout Ottawa Area ISD to provide support.”
OCSN began in 2017 and is based on the national Community School model. The program is funded by the Ottawa Area ISD, Ottawa County Community Mental Health, the partnering school districts, and state mental health funding. OCSN launched as a free service to districts as a pilot program. Once the pilot program ended, districts saw the value. All five participating schools re-committed and six more joined. Five years later there were 15 Community Schools in six OAISD school districts.
Stacy Manning, a first-grade teacher at East Elementary School in Coopersville. says the school is so blessed to have its Community School Coordinator.
“She makes sure to meet the needs of all families in our school. From supplying families in my class with food and clothing, Christmas gifts, services such as outside counseling, financial planning and even prescription glasses,” Stacy says. “The students know she is a safe person who is always ready to give the extra care they may need and all teachers know we can count on our CSC for support too including grants to enrich our classrooms. I don’t know how we ever functioned without her.”
“Participating helped me by being good at basketball and learning how to be friends with other people and how to be good teammates.” —Panther Pathways participating student
“The network OASSN provides has been wonderful in connecting schools, law enforcement, mental health services and community organizations for the safety and security of our students and our community as a whole.” —Leslie Philipps, Assistant Superintendent for Jenison Public Schools