By Susan Riddell
Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs) in Kentucky public schools have been thought of as an important education program, but one that helps students outside the traditional classroom setting.
However, over the past 20 years, FRYSCs have inched their way into classrooms by fostering strong partnerships with teachers and parents.
Whether it’s providing clothes or food for children to help keep them in school and ready to learn or offering tutoring, mentoring or a host of other programs, FRYSCs have changed with the times, said Michael Denney, director of the Division of FRYSC for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
“There are a number of differences in the FRYSC program that I have seen over time,” said Denney, who has been in the program for 16 years, including the last three as director. “Early on, these were viewed as add-on programs. Now, they are an integral part of the educational work that occurs at the local school level.”
Denney said FRYSCs had to change because the needs of families and children have become so vast over time.
“I don’t even remember hearing the word methamphetamine 16 years ago, and now it’s a huge issue,” Denney said. “We didn’t have any issues that I’m aware of regarding cyberbullying 16 years ago either. We also didn’t have the complexity of economic issues that people are dealing with now.
“We had issues with kids due to socioeconomic status and poverty, but in the last three years, we’ve seen families that have been independent and cohesive that, through this (economic) downturn, have lost a lot of independence,” Denney added. “Once, they were able to help centers provide services and supports for other people; now they have become recipients of center services.”
Twenty years ago when the FRYSC program began in Kentucky there were 133 centers throughout the state; now there are 818.
During that time, as they have continued to assist students and their families, FRYSCs have increasingly taken on an instructional support role through their tutoring and mentoring programs, said Denney. “We’re working on training our staff on ways we can fit into the expectations of Senate Bill 1, the new assessment as well as the opportunities to partner with classrooms and the faculty at large to be able to enhance the education process,” Denney said. “Our role obviously is non-academic, but through our partnerships, we are able to connect to a lot of community resources to take a more prominent role with academics.
“I’ve seen FRYSC sponsorship of a lot of science fairs, health fairs and different school clubs that may target special populations of the school,” Denney added. “There are any number of ways (teachers) can use us to assist them.”
Michael Flynn in the Estill County school district and Michelle Hansen in Calloway County lead FRYSCs that exemplify the movement toward helping students become college and/or career ready.
Flynn has worked in Estill County for more than 15 years. “I tie all my programs to the classroom whenever possible,” he said.
Recently, Flynn, who also sponsors the Estill County Middle School student council, tied a Shakers history lesson to bullying in a student council meeting. Prior to the meeting, students discussed utopian ideals like ones from the Shakers, and Flynn had each student make an outline of what his or her utopia would look like. Students presented their ideas at the meeting.
“We discussed how none of their utopias had a bullying presence,” Flynn said. “We then discussed how bullying would impact their utopias, and then we started working on an anti-bullying activity for school. So basically, I used a history lesson on Shakers to motivate the students to create our anti-bullying program.”
Hansen and the Calloway County Family Resource Center (CCFRC) works with teachers and the administration to identify areas of need, she said. Some of that work led to an annual career day for 4th graders that involves teachers, local high school students and several community partners, including the nearby Murray Independent school district and Murray State University.
“The CCFRC staff begins by meeting with the 4th graders to complete the basic 39 questions on the Career Cruising Site, which is later utilized to develop the students’ ILPs in 6th grade,” Hansen said. “This gives the student an idea on his or her top two career cluster areas.”
District 4th graders then attend career day at the local area technology center, where high school students lead the younger students through nine different 30-minute stations that offer them information related to specific careers.
Recent career stations have allowed students to explore professions in agriculture; business and marketing; arts and humanities; communications; construction; education; health services; catering services; information technology; manufacturing; and transportation.
High school students assist in sessions about construction, welding, auto technology, industrial processes, culinary arts and nursing, Hansen said. Murray State University students also play a key role.
“This program introduces 4th graders to the career clusters through hands-on activities that are led by older students who can share their plans for future education or can discuss what it is like to be a university student,” Hansen said.
“Students and teachers all report a better understanding of the careers for the students,” Hansen added. “We feel that this collaborative effort makes a huge difference in the 4th graders’ understanding of the career clusters of Kentucky and options and expectations as they consider post high school options.”
The CCFRC also sponsors a Summer in the Park Feeding Program and collaborates with other area FRYSCs on a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group. The feeding program works with a federal program to provide anyone age 18 years old or under a nutritious meal at a local park pavilion. This program runs throughout the majority of the summer, and learning and wellness programs are provided for children who attend. “In the past few years, we’ve seen the program grow and serve more than 1,600 meals during the summer,” Hansen said.
While some efforts have obvious ties to classroom learning and college and/or career readiness, other FRYSC programs – like the meal and backpack programs – can enhance the effectiveness of school content initiatives.
Estill County’s FRYSC has a program for students called VERB that plays off a verb being an action word. The goal of the program is to get students engaged in physical fitness activities.
“The kids really enjoy it,” Flynn said. “We get together every Thursday afternoon and play games that involve movement and exercise. The health department partners with us on it, and each day at the end of the program we offer a nutritional snack and hints on healthy snacking.”
The Estill County school district also has partnered with its local health department on mother/daughter and father/son dinners. After the meals, parents attend a Beyond the Birds and the Bees workshop. Parents receive resource material and participate in discussions on how and when to talk to their children about sex.
Students, meanwhile, go through a separate series of workshops on Internet safety, sexting, nutrition and skin care.
“Neither have a direct link to college and career readiness unless you think like I do,” Flynn said. “I believe that all the life skills that we have students develop are essential in completing high school and being successful in college and careers.”
While FRYSC initiatives are plentiful across the state, Hansen said there is still more room for improvement in the effectiveness of “helping students and families work to take positive steps in their lives.”
“The more school staff, community members, parents/guardians and students understand the focus and work of FRYSCs, the more bridges can be made to meet the needs of our students,” Hansen added. “One truly amazing characteristic about the FRYSCs is that they can be so instrumental in connecting or developing resources with those in need.”
Denney would like to see even greater integration in the school programs.
“One of the things we have been working on in our office is the establishment of a CEU (continuing education units) program. We are hopeful that within the next year we will fully implement this effort. A committee has been working on it about a year; it just takes some time to do things correctly.
“My hope is that five years from now the FRYSC staff in a local school would be viewed by everyone on campus as the most competent, highly-trained person there to deal with non-academic issues in a student’s life,” Denney added. “That’s my goal.”