New effort by United Way, others focuses on Taft Elementary neighborhood
By Denise Dick (firstname.lastname@example.org)
YOUNGSTOWN: Several individuals and organizations, including the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, have made a promise.
They want to create the city’s first promise neighborhood in the area surrounding Taft Elementary School.
The United Way will serve as the “backbone” of the initiative that will include organizations from the city to churches, nonprofit organizations and businesses in the area to meet the needs of the community.
This school year marked the initiation of Success After 6 by the United Way. Youngstown Community School served as the pilot school for the program.
That program provides tutoring, physical fitness, arts and warm meals to kindergarten through third-graders at the charter school.
“We wanted to do this in Youngstown,” said Bob Hannon, United Way president.
The instability of the city school board and its members’ relationship with the superintendent at the time swayed the organization away from the city schools, though, he said.
Youngstown Community School serves all city children, and it’s governed by a strong board, Hannon explained.
Part of creating the Taft Promise Neighborhood is launching a Success After 6 program at that school, too.
Eventually, United Way hopes to offer the program in all of the city schools’ elementaries.
Laura Weymer, the United Way director of community impact, said one of the reasons Taft was chosen first is because it doesn’t offer an after-school program.
Many of the other city elementary schools provide after-school programming.
The purpose of a promise neighborhood is to bolster educational and developmental outcomes of children in distressed communities.
Promise neighborhoods are an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, and the local United Way personnel traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they learned about that city’s program.
Last August, a Strong Cities, Strong Communities Americorps VISTA team began working in the 15-block area around the South Side school.
An advisory team including organizations in the neighborhood and related groups identified four goals: education, health and wellness, jobs and economy and neighborhood.
Weymer said the program employs a holistic approach to address needs of students, their families and the community. “It’s much larger than just a school,” Weymer said.
Vision screenings and immunization clinics for children fit into the health and wellness category, for example.
The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., a member of the council that’s working on the project, is seeking a state grant through the Ohio Department of Transportation to install sidewalks, crosswalks, signs, signals and other upgrades around the school.
The promise neighborhood plan involves creating an inventory of neighborhood needs and resources, increasing neighborhood involvement, developing community partnerships and devising a strategic plan for the neighborhood and the South Avenue corridor. John McMahan, Taft principal, is excited about the plan. “They’re bringing an unbelievable after-school program,” he said.
That will offer students programming between 3:30 and 6 p.m., when they may otherwise be home alone. It will include academic elements as well as fun, the principal said. “I can’t rave enough about what our city fathers are doing for Taft Elementary School,” McMahan said.
Brenda Scott is the Success After 6 coordinator and knows the names of all 100 students in the program at Youngstown Community School. She also knows their families. Scott grew up in the city, is a graduate of the city schools and strives to create relationships with the students and families. She also serves as a bridge between the families and school personnel when needed. “Communication with teachers is crucial,” Scott said.
That enables after-school personnel to know in what areas students may need extra help. She also can help students understand that their teachers are there to help. Scott has even provided transportation for some children when they needed it. While the program will continue at YCS, the plan is for the same environment to be developed at Taft and eventually at all of the city’s elementary schools. Scott believes it’s about building trust and establishing relationships with people. “Parents confide in me,” she said. That way she can communicate to school personnel if a child may be having a particularly bad day. Scott conducts home visits, too.“I’m all in,” she said, conceding she works long days. “Students have full access to me. That’s part of my success.”
Published: Mon, February 1, 2016 @ 12:05 a.m. vindy.com