By Matthew Tungate
The playground at Carr Creek Elementary School (Knott County) was older than a lot of the students’ parents, having been built in 1972, and it was time to be replaced.
So the school’s Family Resource and Youth Services Center (FRYSC) raised $43,000 in cash and services. The new playground includes swing sets, a basketball court, walking track, outdoor stage area, baseball/t-ball area and play center.
FRYSC Director Debbie Joseph Smith said a coal company donated cash, hauled loads of fill dirt, used its bulldozers for landscaping and seeded the entire area. Volunteers landscaped and painted. Teachers and children spread mulch during recess with the school principal and FRYSC staff.
“The entire school of students, staff, parents and community joined in the project,” she said.
The FRYSC is the school’s link to home and community, said Smith, the only director the center has known in its 20 years. Whether it is home visits, newsletters, parent volunteer training, a mathematics/literacy night, family fun nights or summer swimming at the local pool, the FRYSC provides continual programming for students, staff, parents and the community, she said.
“On a daily basis we hear, ‘I don’t know what our school would do without the resource center,’” she said.
Smith’s is just one of the many outstanding FRYSCs in the state, according Michael Denney, director of the Division of FRYSC for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Family Resource Centers, which serve elementary schools, and Youth Services Centers, which serve middle and high schools, are innovative because they “connect the dots and to bring the families and community providers and the school to a common place of discussion,” Denney said.
“We look at trying to be that connection that works with families to build positive relationships. Keeping kids in school and engaging families in their children’s education are critical aspects of the role of the centers,” he said. “What we do is try to re-position local community resources to the school where the kids are and where the families can easily access them.”
So it’s hard to quantify what makes a FRYSC good, he said.
“It goes back to this one simple question: What are the local needs that exist at that school? If the center staff’s working effectively with the school administration, with community resources and with the families to be able to provide the services and make those necessary connections, they will be an effective center,” Denney said.
FRYSCs offer variety of services
Debbie Canavera, the director of the Stuart Pepper Middle School (Meade County) Youth Service Center, said the YSC conducts parent, student and teacher surveys at the beginning of the year and uses the results to plan programs for the following years.
“We also use our monthly parent newsletter to communicate with parents about issues of concern. As an example, on one assessment we had parents indicate that Internet safety was an issue,” she said. “We had an after-school program for parents, and we started addressing Internet safety at our 7th-grade summer camp and health/safety fair.”
As more students and families struggle because of the poor economy, her YSC increasingly helps by providing school supplies and health insurance information and connecting families to community resources that will assist them in overcoming their financial problems, she said.
The YSC also offers transition programs for the 840 7th- and 8th-graders in the school. The staff coordinates events to help incoming 7th-graders transition to middle school and outgoing 8th-graders transition to high school. Events include parent forums, student visits and a transition camp for incoming students.
Other programs include a babysitting clinic each year presented by the Extension Office and Health Department. The local public library sponsors craft classes throughout the year and a summer camp, Canavera said. Stuart Pepper Middle’s YSC also coordinates an 8th-grade “Reality Store” that is sponsored by at least 12 community agencies. “Reality Store” gives students a fictional job and then sends them through a mock life, including paying bills, having a family and other events.
Canavera said Meade County doesn’t have as many resources as more urban areas in the state, and the YSC couldn’t provide as many programs for families without community collaboration.
“Bringing in community resources many times allows us to have programs that will not cost much, which is critical when we have tightened budgets,” she said.
At Carr Creek Elementary, Smith said parents, students and staff complete a needs survey every year.
Not only do the results help determine programming for the FRYSC, but the data are used in the school’s comprehensive school improvement plan (CSIP). Smith is the manager for reducing barriers on the CSIP.
Smith said grandparents are raising one-fourth of the school’s students. One of its best programs is the Foster Granny Program, where senior citizens volunteer to tutor children. The FRYSC uses the “grannies” in its Early Childhood Center, summer programming and gardening program.
“The seven ladies are an inspiration to all students, staff and community,” Smith said.
Cumberland County FRYSC Coordinator Priscilla Schwartz said her center, which serves all three schools and an alternative program in the district, has delivered services to almost 700 of the district’s 1,016 students this year.
One of the greatest needs for students is health and dental services, she said. The FRYSC has worked with the Lake Cumberland District Health Department to provide health services for the school district.
The FRYSC started with a school nurse one day a week, but now has a full-time nurse at all three schools. Also, the FRYSC collaborates with Cumberland Family Medical to provide dental services for about 52 percent of the students in the district, Schwartz said.
“The dentist will spend about 30 days in Cumberland County schools this year to do preventative dental work along with referrals for students at no charge to the student’s family,” she said.
Another health service is collaborating with Adanta Behavioral Health for two school-based therapists who work with 12 percent of the student population, Schwartz said. They provide support and therapy in the schools.
“These are services that parents could access in other ways, but they do not either because of time, scheduling or access,” she said. “Providing health services in the school helps meet those important needs.”
The FRYSC is housed in a building with other community agencies: Adult Education Program, Community Education, the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy and Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Program. Schwartz said the agencies have to work together to meet the needs of students and families.
“For example, parents who cannot read are unable to help children at home. Our goal is to get those parents in for adult education classes so they can capitalize on being their child’s first teacher,” she said. “Another example is working with the Lake Cumberland Area Development District to get the WIA Grant for in-school and out-of-school youth. This program provided the summer work program for more than 150 individuals (our children and families) this past summer. With the economy and unemployment rate at an all-time high, this was crucial for our small community.”
Denney, in particular, thinks that putting the agencies together was a great idea.
“It’s just a sterling example of collaboration and of a commitment to what’s right and good for the families of that community,” he said.
Schwartz said the FRYSC started the first licensed child care center in the county. Now there are two other licensed centers, but the School Age Child Care (SACC) program is still there.
“We are proud to say our ‘childcare babies’ are very successful students,” she said. “Even the students in high school that we see are proud when we call them ‘childcare babies.’”
Many of the students start with SACC when they enter kindergarten and stay until age 12, Schwartz said.
“There is also a strong connection between the SACC staff and the teachers at the school,” she said. “If students are not meeting their reading goals or are behind on homework, the teachers will let the staff know what an individual student needs to work on.”
Teachers and FRYSCs work together
Denney said FRYSCs are trying to reduce the barriers to education, which should be a benefit in the classroom.
“It should free the teacher to teach,” he said. “Teachers can find, in their family resource or youth service center, a ready place to make referrals for nonacademic issues that kids may be having that are impeding their progress in the classroom.”
Schwartz said Cumberland County teachers refer students with various needs: kinder mats, clothing, shoes, paper, pencil, backpacks, snacks, dental, or a tie or dress for a special event.
“They hear students make comments about not having food or heat at home and let us know so we can help the family find the resources they need,” she said. “They refer parents for GED, if they know of a parent who cannot read to a child. They make referrals for students who need extra support through counseling or for a loss they have suffered. They need to talk with the parent and have no way to get in touch, so we do a home visit for them. Our teachers are very astute to the needs of our students since we are such a small community.”
Carr Creek Elementary classroom teachers provide formal and informal referrals to the FRYSC, Smith said.
“I could not do the many services I do without the teachers. We work well together. We are always there for each other,” she said. “For many reasons, the role of teacher has changed over the years. Our teachers are faced with many new obstacles in educating children. It takes all of us to make the difference.”
Canavera said FRYSCs have to have buy-in from staff to receive referrals for services.
“Our teachers, administrative team, bus drivers, instructional aides, coaching staff and lunchroom staff have all provided referrals throughout the years,” she said. “If I receive a referral from someone, I always follow up with the person who made the referral.”
Canavera said she tries to be discreet in dealing with Stuart Pepper Middle students and teachers.
“If I need to have a student leave class for a meeting, I e-mail the teacher the day before and then give the teacher a hall pass the day of the service. If I need to speak to a student for just a minute, I wait until class change to do this,” she said. “Professional courtesy begets professional courtesy.”
Denney said there are many ways teachers and FRYSC staff work together.
Mentoring programs are one way. They may focus on tutoring or students at-risk for dropping out. FRYSC staff also serves as resource to teachers for getting outside presenters.
For instance, a teacher was teaching a unit in social studies on Appalachian culture, and the school resource center brought in two local women who worked with students all day about canning grape jelly, Denney said.
“They become an extra pair of hands,” he said. “They also brought with them much history of the culture of their local community – not to mention the math skills needed in the canning of the jelly. They also were able to discuss aspects of science in their time with the students as they talked about food preservation. So the lesson on culture reached across several areas of core content.”
In some families, the only communication they may have with school is bad, Denney said. FRYSCs can change that.
“Being able to promote positive relationships with parents and reaching out with them to engage them in the educational process – I have preached for years that center staff must develop positive relationships with families. That’s one of the most important jobs we have,” he said. “And if we develop those positive relationships, we can ease those transitions for kids and serve as a resource to them throughout their school experience.”
Ultimately, everyone in the school has the same goal, Denney said.
“From the principal to the custodian, from the food service staff to the teachers, from the family resource or youth service center person to the bus driver, it’s all about the same thing: it’s about ensuring that kids receive a high-quality education, graduate and move on to a successful future,” he said.
MORE INFO …
Michael Denney, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 564-4986