Crystal Darnell shadowboxes during the exercise session at Scott High School. Programs are held there and at three other hub schools.
The Blade/Lori King
The lights don’t go out at Scott High School after class these days. There’s much too much going on.
If you live in the Old West End or Old Towne, you’ve probably received mail telling you why. And judging by the action on Monday evenings at Scott, many have checked their mail.
More than 50 women packed the school’s auxiliary gym Monday for a free rendition of Fabulously Fit, led by fitness instructor Angela Steward. There were teachers, parents, school volunteers, and neighbors, all faithfully lunging and squatting at Ms. Steward’s commands while music blasted in the background. Judging by their smiles and boisterousness — they don’t just obey, they chant while working out — most plan to make this a regular thing.
“I’ve seen people here I haven’t seen in a while,” said Jonette Moss, a grandparent of Scott students and an Old West End resident who also spends Thursday afternoons at Scott for a knitting club.
Marlene Lindsey and Barbara Lee, both Scott grads who live near the school, said they were glad the building was renovated instead of torn down.
Now, with programs such as the community workouts, GED and college courses, and free tax-preparation services, former Bulldogs and neighbors have a reason to come back to Scott and enjoy the building.
Toledo Public Schools and United Way of Greater Toledo officials announced about two years ago a program called “schools as community hubs.” The hubs partner TPS schools with nonprofit groups that provide services such as medical and dental care, social services, or after-school programs.
There are hubs at four sites: Robinson and Leverette elementary schools, Pickett Academy, and Scott. United Way funds two of the hubs — Robinson and Leverette — and the other pair are, for now, funded through a federal grant. Each costs about $100,000 annually to run, said Angeline Lee, United Way’s school-community partnership specialist.
Instead of isolated oases used only for education and during school hours, the hubs are meant to bring in parents and neighbors, during and after school hours, making the schools a social center within residential areas.
It’s an antithetical idea in this era of fragmentation in America’s school systems.
Educators often lament the myriad social, family, and health problems that plague students in areas of concentrated, extreme poverty. Those problems, they say, invariably reduce academic achievement and force teachers to be part-time social worker, part-time family counselor, and part-time mental-health specialist.
“We want to remove that burden, so that all you have to do is teach,” said Candice Harrison, Scott hub director.
Community schools aren’t new, and the concept is far from unique to Toledo. Cincinnati, for instance, has had an extensive community schools program up and running for several years, with more than 30 hubs and 600 partner agencies.
Toledo’s program took some time to get operational. First, lead-partner agencies were selected for each site, and those agencies employed a hub director. Those directors then led lengthy needs assessments, working with the schools, parents, and neighborhoods to determine what programs and services the hubs should offer.
The Toledo hubs have been active only for a couple of months, so it’s hard to say how successful they’ll be. But schools already are reporting anecdotal triumphs.
Ward Barnett, assistant principal at Pickett Academy, said he had a student who just wouldn’t go to class. She’s had a tough home life and had just gotten off probation when she arrived at Pickett. School staff tried to convince her to go to class, then moved to coercion. The school forwarded her to attendance hearings for her constant refusals to sit in a classroom.
But the girl found a connection with the hub program. She joined the dance team and started liking school. She even brought her grandmother to a hub-organized movie night at the school. And she’s now an “A Team” member of the school.
“What’s to say that didn’t save that student’s life?” Mr. Barnett said of the hub.
Each hub has its own focus, based on community input, so no two look alike. Pickett focused on after-school programming, so there’s dance and ballet classes, tutoring, and a book club. Leverette’s hub includes financial education for parents, mental and behavioral health services, a parent-advocacy group, and the Girl Scouts.
The school’s main three focuses have been behavioral health, family and community engagement, and youth health and safety. Keeping the children involved in the school helps with that last focus, hub director Kimberly Woodard said.
“If they’re off the streets and have something to do, they’ll be safe,” Ms.Woodard said.
Creating a safe place
Christy Snyder, a clinical therapist for the Unison Behavioral Health Group, has her own office at Leverette, and the school is open until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday for Ms. Snyder to see clients.
She does evaluations, behavioral therapies, arranges or provides transportation for medical appointments, and even does home visits to follow up with families.
Often, she’ll get a call from a teacher that a student is out of control. Instead of a trip to the principal’s office, students can get a visit from Ms. Snyder, who tries to calm them so they can focus in class.
While her caseload — she’s opened 17 files in just three weeks — is focused on students and students’ families, Ms. Snyder said she plans to work with neighbors who need help. And there are plans to bring in another Unison therapist to expand hours.
This all comes at no cost to TPS. Unison is reimbursed through insurance for Ms. Snyder’s services, mostly through Medicaid.
When Ms. Snyder opens a student’s case, parents have to come in for an initial appointment, during which there’s a diagnostic assessment. Information from the school is discussed, any possible abuse history is documented, as is anything that could be contributing to the student’s behavior.
Ms. Snyder tries to do follow-up visits with parents once a month — there’s only so much she can do to change behaviors — but that means there needs to be follow-through from parents.
On this day, Ms. Snyder had a parent conference scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday; by 2 p.m., the mother still hadn’t arrived. That was the exception, she said.
“Most parents want to be engaged,” Ms. Snyder said.
It helps that the hub directors — who aren’t TPS staff members — can act as neutral parties between the schools and parents.
If a family has a disagreement with the school, the family still can work with hub directors without crossing imaginary conflict lines.
“I’m Switzerland,” Ronata Robinson, Pickett hub director, said.
The hubs also serve as a vehicle for teachers to build stronger bonds with their students.
Charvette Jones, a fifth-grade teacher at Pickett whose father was the late Ernest Jones, a longtime TPS teacher, runs a ballet class after school for students. Instead of a barre, the students use a whiteboard for balance. Ms. Jones danced for, among other groups, the Toledo Ballet.
Ms. Jones said she hasn’t had to do much cajoling to get her kids into her ballet class.
“They just want to stay after school. Period,” she said.
While many TPS promises of structural reforms and improvements have stymied the district’s commitment to increasing partnerships with nonprofits, businesses, and community groups is one that TPS administrators can point to real, sustained action.
Beyond the hubs, TPS also has Boys and Girls clubs embedded in three elementary schools, and a YMCA is joined to a high school. And Glenwood Elementary has instituted something of an informal hub, using Friday afternoons for student-enrichment activities led by teachers, but including community volunteers.
The United Way, for now, is focused on its existing hubs, Ms. Lee said, but there’s hope the program can spread throughout the district, much in the way it has in Cincinnati.
“This is a long-term strategy for change,” she said.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.