“So what does the Community Partnership program do here at our school?” Bethany Groves, principal of Webster Elementary School, prompted a class of third-graders on Tuesday afternoon.
“Gives us socks and shoes,” answered one boy.
“We get food,” another student said.
“Clothes,” one girl volunteered.
Webster Elementary School and South Woods Elementary School have both achieved credentialed status for their collaborative, on-site Community Partnership programs through the Children’s Home Society of Florida.
The program, launched at both schools in 2017, helps to fill in some of the gaps in communities that serve a higher-than-average number of low-income and at-risk families.
“The idea is to take care of all these extra things so that when kids get to school, they can focus on learning,” said Groves.
With the help of organizational and business partners across the county, Webster operates a a resources center on campus which does everything from provide clothing, food and supplies to offering free health care through Flagler Health+, and tutoring and counseling for both students and adults in the community.
The two elementary schools in St. Johns County are among just nine schools statewide to meet the benchmarks for accreditation so far through the University of Central Florida. UCF serves as the grant administrator of the Community School Grant Program; provides technical assistance to community schools; and oversees the certification process.
The process is “very stringent,” according to Groves, and encompasses 12 standards that indicate the program has become embedded in the community enough after its first five years and is producing tangible results.
According to a press release from CHS, “The Webster School has increased access to health and wellness services, counseling, family engagement and after school activities – key needs identified by parents, teachers and community leaders in an initial assessment.”
Alexius Ferguson, director of the Community Partnership School at Webster, said he believes the foundation created to combine assets with community organizations is why the initiative has worked so well in St. Johns County.
“It’s very important for us to have that local support,” said Ferguson.
Chris Stone, director of the program at South Woods, agreed.
“What we do here for these children and their families is really a community effort. Our partners – the St. Johns County School District, the Children’s Home Society, St. Johns River State College and Flagler Health+ – all work together to make the lives of these children better,” said Stone.
Groves believes the program has helped to reduce the stigma for parents or children in asking for the help they need, be it in the school setting or at home.
“Unfortunately, many of our students are in poverty or facing difficulties and challenges,” Groves said.
The mental health counseling available can help students or families dealing with the death of a loved one; an incarcerated parent; households where substance abuse is occurring; and even the growing number of transient families.
“This program evens the playing field for our students and families,” said South Woods Elementary School principal Angela Rodgers. “From health care to clothing, to food, to school supplies, the program gives our kids help so they can thrive.”
Ferguson said the program works on the premise of Positive Behavior Intervention Support, or PBIS, which reinforces good behavior with rewards, like a special school trip for students in good standing.
Helping kids develop coping mechanisms as well as set goals for the future can change the trajectory of students’ lives, especially if that foundation is laid at the elementary level, both Groves and Ferguson say.
They’ve seen enough success stories to know it’s true.
The partnership also promotes growth in academics.
For example, Webster students demonstrated a 46% increase in learning gains in statewide testing in math – from 21% in 2018 to 67% in 2021. Students who participated in after-school tutoring saw a 34% increase in reading gains.
Achieving credentialed status ensures that Webster and South Woods will continue to receive funding to keep the program going for at least another five years, when the accreditation process will begin again.
That’s why Groves believes the investment its partners make in the program is so important to the community as a whole.
“When Webster thrives, the west side [of St. Augustine] thrives, and when St. Augustine thrives, St. Johns County thrives,” said Groves.
Originally posted by: staugustine.com | The St. Augustine Record
Written by Colleen Michele Jones. Staff member Peter Willott contributed to this report.