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Students change classes in May 2019 during Freshman Academy at Massena Central School. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — The Massena Central School District will be among the rural districts that are examined in a college research project that looks at the Community Schools concept.

Shannon Allen, project manager and assistant research professor at the University of Denver, along with her community partner, Virginia Drake, will be in the district on Thursday and Friday. Ms. Allen and Ms. Drake have received grant funding to research rural community schools, and they will be interviewing school and community partners in Massena and the surrounding communities.

“They heard about it. They know us as a national model for rural community schools. I think we’re some of the first,” Massena Central Community Schools Site Coordinator Kristin Colarusso-Martin said.

She said Ms. Allen reached out to Massena to see if they would be interested in participating in the project, “if we had a team that would be interested in meeting with her and her team and sharing information about what we’ve done.”

The district introduced the Community Schools concept in 2017. Community schools are a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. The objective is to transform schools into community hubs that deliver co-located or school-linked academic, health, mental health, nutrition, counseling, legal and/or other services to students and their families to help maximize academic achievement by the students.

Funding for the program is part of foundation aid provided by the state and set aside for the Community Schools initiative.

“Community Schools itself goes back to aid what Gov. (Andrew M.) Cuomo provided to high needs schools. That first year, we used that money to add a high school guidance counselor while we took the opportunity to research the Community Schools model. We weren’t familiar with it. It was an opportunity to understand the program and what it could offer,” Superintendent Patrick Brady said.

Ms. Colarusso-Martin was hired to begin work in the 2017-18 school year. They also developed an Advisory Board to do a needs assessment of the community, and then began implementing various initiatives.

“Because we are one of the few schools that are on the cutting edge of this work, we gain more attention both within the state and across the country,” Mr. Brady said.

That led to the request by Ms. Allen to come and look at Massena’s program. Ms. Colarusso-Martin said the researchers have already scheduled interviews with administrators, members of the Advisory Board and the district’s community partners.

“They’re very excited to meet with and talk to everybody that they can to find out what we’re doing and how to apply it to rural schools in Colorado,” she said. “They’re actually hoping that the information they’re putting together can be used as guidance for other rural communities across the country to do the Community Schools model.”

She said Ms. Allen and Ms. Drake will also be talking to a rural school community in Kentucky and will be presenting their findings at a national Community Schools conference in late spring or early summer.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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