In Rome, New York, a group of people consisting of community members, volunteers, agencies, resources and school staff, make up a “Connected Community School (CCS) Initiative.” This CCS Initiative formed a Community Response Team, designed to pull together, organize, and provide whatever supports any of their school systems might need during a “crisis.”
As we all know too well, that crisis presented itself as COVID-19 creeped into all of our communities. Within just hours of the announcements of their school closures, the response team’s three partnering agencies, Rome Alliance for Educaiton, Safe Schools Mohawk Valley and CNY Health Homes Network, were able to assess the situation of all of schools and quickly design a unique plan of help.
“When others were leaving, we were preparing, planning and walking back in. We have already had overwhelming Community support and we hope to see that continue, we will need it to,” said Melissa Roys, Executive Director of the Rome Alliance for Education, about the response of their team.
That plan of help included the partner agencies working to assist school Food Services in distributing breakfast and lunch meals to students who had relied on in-school meals. At three different sites, temporary Food Pantry were embedded to assist families with long term food insecurity. Families visiting the food pantries were also given a flyer to with phone numbers they could reach out to for further assistance with any individual issues they might have been encountering, such as simple requests for information, or more serious issues of resource/food insecurity and other family situations like homelessness.
Other local partnerships were also utilized to meet the needs of families, including with a local fire department to help make food deliveries. Additionally, the response team created a listserv to keep in contact with all community resources, agencies, and services (Advisory Board) to guarantee up to date, real time information to circulate into the Community and to their families. They also met with some of the Counseling Staff and created a plan in which they helped man the phones and provided general de-escalation and anxiety help for families.
With the Rome Teachers Center a daily Live Social Media site was also created, where staff, admin and counseling staff posted videos/streamed broadcasts to families to help with general anxiety that families and students were experiencing, that was gradually transitioned to a distance learning tool, broadcasting general curriculum to students by friendly and familiar faces.
This story is one we quite familiar with by now – with the onset of the pandemic, schools may have closed but Community Schools and the networks of partners they are made of, didn’t stop. People worked day and night to ensure the well-being of their Districts and communities.
In Rome, the power of the Community School model was evident, but perhaps best exemplified in a single afternoon when the need arose for a food pantry at a particular school. As Melissa Roys described it, “an email was sent out just out just hours before we needed to employ trucks and manpower. At 2:00 when we instructed volunteers to show, I looked out into the parking lot, quite literally filled with trucks to about 50 individuals: union members, teachers, community members, and students! The Board of Education President and members, Principals, the Superintendent, businesses and of course our staff. The work went faster than I could of ever imagined, trucks were loaded, food was moved, it was then set up and organized. I am guessing about 8,000 pounds of food moved in under an hour. Every single person before leaving asking “what can I do tomorrow…where do you need me…”
That’s the power of community!
Continuing, Roys said. “we had always in our back pocket this Community Response Team, [that we had] worked on, in the event of a crisis. Never imagining, this, as I guess you don’t ever imagine these days, we had our Team – and it was our Community…The community support has been humbling – money, food, supplies have come in and are continuing. Families have been reaching out since last week asking assistance for their individual struggles. At the beginning of this, the Mayor, Superintendent and many or our Community Partners reached out to us, to guide the team on the next step. We are the Community. I am humbled.”