MASSENA — An effort that was started when Alcoa announced plans to close its Massena operations in 2015 continues to grow.
The People Project, an initiative funded by New York State United Teachers and supported by the American Federation of Teachers, is working to revitalize St. Lawrence County with a focus on three main areas — economic development, mainly including travel and tourism; health and wellness, chiefly combating the opioid problem; and community schools.
Erin Covell, president of the Massena Federation of Teachers and coordinator of The People Project, said the initiative’s main goal is to reduce redundancy and work together throughout the county.
“The first year, we listened to what people were doing. We realized everybody was doing amazing work with the same goal and same vision,” she said.
The problem was, there were no conversations taking place among the different groups around the county and, as a result, there was overlap.
“People were having conversations in their own communities. It quickly became clear that we needed to look at ourselves more holistically and regionally,” Ms. Covell said.
One area they’re focusing on is community schools, a concept introduced in the Massena Central School District for the 2017-18 school year.
“They (the schools) are really understanding that we need to share our pretty limited resources and support all kids in St. Lawrence County. Our goal is to create a network in St. Lawrence County where every single district has a community schools site coordinator,” Ms. Covell said.
She said every school, with the exception of three, has $75,000 in state funding set aside for that effort, but the guidelines are vague. Some have used it for school psychologists, while others have used it for assemblies. With a unified effort, all of the schools could be on the same page with the use of their resources, Ms. Covell said.
“We had somebody who works in community schools from the American Federation of Teachers come to Massena and talk to us about that. The key is to put a person in place who can do all of that. We’re looking to partner with SUNY Potsdam for them to kind of house the position, a network coordinator who would oversee all the site coordinators in the school districts,” she said.
Ms. Covell said SUNY Binghamton uses that model and, among their efforts, they were able to bring a mobile dental van to school districts. The dentist would set up an office in a classroom and provide free care.
They were able to provide that service to every school district,” she said. “There needs to be somebody to coordinate all of that.”
In Massena, Kristin Colarusso-Martin is the community schools site coordinator, and the work she’s done has caught the attention of other school districts.
“They see what Kristin’s doing. The schools are definitely on board. A lot of people want to be able to contribute and do something positive. Whether it’s schools or small business or tourism, they just don’t know what to do. This, because it’s a national organization, can pull it all together,” Ms. Covell said.
She said that on Oct. 22 at SUNY Potsdam, all school districts are invited to showcase a program or initiative that they think has made the biggest impact on their school district. Other school districts will be there also.
“They will be able to support each other in implementing those programs without the enormous cost of travel or training. We can train trainers already in St. Lawrence County to be able to help others. That’s a really good example of collaborating in the spirit of moving things forward,” she said.
In addition to schools, their current focus is also on uniting chambers of commerce in the county.
“Chambers are struggling. People are struggling to pay their dues. The directors are wearing too many hats,” Ms. Covell said. “We have another meeting coming up to have the chambers operate a little bit differently so that we can really promote the entire region.”
The gist of it
n WHAT: The People Project continues to expand its efforts
n GOAL: Working to reduce redundancy, offer unified focus in St. Lawrence County
n WHO: The current focus is on unifying schools, chambers of commerce