Communities in Schools aids recovery

Alyssa Pressler
  • Communities in Schools is a statewide initiative to prevent drop-outs.
  • York City School District is the only district in York County that has this program in its schools.
  • This past year, the district added another Communities in Schools officer in Davis K-8.

When you work in education, you can face a  wide array of challenges, and this only increases when you work in urban education, according to McKinley K-8's school principal, Danielle Brown.

"In urban education, you deal with everything that walks through the doors," said the York City School District educator. "It's not always unicorns and rainbows."

Sometimes it's a child who doesn't have access to food, and other times it's a child who can't wash his or her clothes. Because of this, urban schools such as the York City School District often look to creative approaches to problems to ensure students are getting the necessities.

Communities in Schools in Pennsylvania (CISPA) is one example of how the district looks to provide an even playing field for its students. CISPA is a program geared toward lowering the drop-out rate in schools. According to a news release from CISPA, the program has expanded by 300 percent in Harrisburg, Lancaster and York County.

Communities in Schools Pennsylvania onsite coordinator Alex Kadyszewski, right, gives a hall pass to seventh-graders Hamanii Dennis, 14, left, and Maliyah Simmons, 12, after talking to them in his office at McKinley K-8 School in York, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York City is the only district in York County to have the program in the schools. This past year the district added another Communities in Schools officer to one K-8 building, Davis. Communities in Schools has a full-time site coordinator in William Penn Senior High School as well as Goode, Jackson, McKinley, Hannah Penn and now Davis K-8.

According to the school district's 2015-16 annual report  — before Davis was added — there were 280 students served on a case-management basis within the district. Shelly Grim, the director of programs and field operations for CISPA, explained that case management means the students can participate with the site coordinator directly with consent from the student's parents.

Site coordinators: Site coordinators at the schools wear a number of different hats. They might chat with a child about some of the problems being faced at home, coordinate events or initiatives that will enrich students' learning experience or work to connect a student and their family to resources in the community to get clothes, laundry services or food.

Alex Kadyszewski is the site coordinator for McKinley K-8 and is in his third year in this position. Without him, Brown and the school's assistant principal, Frank Palmieri, said  they would be lost.

Communities in Schools Pennsylvania Onsite Coordinator Alex Kadyszewski at McKinley K-8 School in York, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"He's an advocate for the students," Brown said. "He's their voice a lot of times."

Kadyszewski has started a number of programs and initiatives in the K-8 school in his three years  there. Kadyszewski is responsible for the student council for middle-schoolers  and for a buddy mentoring and tutoring program he started with his alma mater, York College. The school also has a washer and dryer, thanks to Kadyszewski and CISPA, so that students can wash their clothes at school rather than wearing dirty clothes each day.

Of all of the programs he has started, Kadyszewski said he liked the partnership with York College the best, which Grim said could expand to other schools in the future. Once in the fall and once in the spring, a group of fourth- through sixth-graders go to the college to work with second-year students on solving problems.

"It's a good bonding relationship for the kids," Kadyszewski said, explaining that the initiative helps students see where they could go in the future.

Palmieri said Kadyszewski is especially great for following up with students after a conflict, something he and Brown can't always focus on with their own day-to-day duties.

"To have one person to help with kids daily with problems is huge," Palmieri said. "He's been huge with helping with mediation."

Kadyszewski said he sees anywhere from five to 10 children each day for various issues, from mediation to helping them wash their clothes. Sometimes he sees kids consistently, and other times it might be his first or second time interacting with a student. Not all of these students are case-managed ultimately but might just participate in one of the many initiatives Kadyszewski helps run.

"Every day is different; it's always something new," Kadyszewski said, adding it is one of the reasons he loves his job. "This is a family. I really love coming to work every day."

Each site coordinator in the district does different things, depending on the needs of the school. According to the district's 2015-16 annual report, William Penn's CISPA coordinator held mental-health awareness activities, a weekend backpack food service and college fairs. Meanwhile, at Goode K-8 the coordinator helped with healthy snacking, educational opportunities on the environment and pollution and anti-bullying presentations.

Road to recovery: CISPA was originally brought to the York City School District as a part of its recovery plan more than three years ago when the district was first declared in a state of moderate financial recovery. Chief Recovery Officer Carol Saylor said that the recommendation to put the initiative in the district's recovery plan came from an impartial outside observer from Mass Insight, an organization that helps public schools close the achievement gap.

The observer came up with several recommendations, but one was to keep CISPA in the district and further expand it to other schools as part of the recovery plan.

"It's in the plan because we wanted to make sure that each school was able to benefit from it," Superintendent Eric Holmes said. CISPA is primarily funded by donors, including the York Foundation and United Way, which is why CISPA was able to expand to Davis K-8 this school year.

Saylor has said at past school board meetings that the district is ahead of the game in its recovery plan, pointing to the expansion of Communities in Schools as one example of progress. Holmes expanded on this, stating that the district has 22 initiatives spelled out in the recovery plan and that the district has started and is in various stages of completion for 18 of the 22 initiatives.

York City schools add cameras at doors of William Penn

Holmes said that CISPA has helped the district on the road to recovery because improving student achievement goes beyond  helping students with academics, it includes removing barriers that could distract them from school. These barriers can be associated with their home life and the community around them. Site coordinators such as Kadyszewski help tackle those barriers and provide solutions.

"While the ultimate goal is to improve student achievement, there are different ways you can go about doing that, and there are different issues that a district has to address in order to make it a reality," Holmes explained.

Saylor said in an interview that CISPA has been key in filling voids that occurred when the district had to eliminate a number of positions years ago, including many school guidance counselors.

CISPA does a report for the district each year to discuss progress, and Saylor said the most recent report showed the district had tremendous success with students in case management.

"What I really like about Communities In Schools is it’s not a program, it’s a way of connecting students and families to services that already exist in order to keep them in schools," Saylor said.