MIDDLEBURG – There were times when it was difficult for Shawn C. Smith to keep her composure when describing Wilkinson Junior High’s two-year mission to become one of the few UCF-Certified Community Partnership Schools.

Her voice cracked at times, but her smile was infectious. This was a big deal, and she knew it.

“Previously, schools were just the source of education,” she said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 5. “Now community partnerships, they can be a source of change.”

Big change.

According to Central Florida, The UCF Center for Community Schools promotes community partnerships that include at least four core partners – a school district, a university or college, a community-based nonprofit and a healthcare provider.

For Wilkinson, it means students will have more tools to help break the cycle of poverty, hunger and a lack of opportunities.

Wilkinson’s partners included the Clay County District Schools, St. Johns River State College, Baptist Health, Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Children Home Society of Florida. Together, they intend to lift one of the poorest areas in Northeast Florida.

“Our commitment is providing hope and opportunities for success for children, youth and their families here in Clay County,” CHS Regional Executive Director Ernie Hamilton said. “We’ve been partnering with schools for several years, collaborating with our local partners and the school district to ensure students had access to counseling and other services that could help them overcome barriers to education. We saw how important it was to provide opportunities to address the social, emotional and academic challenges students face and we knew there was more work to be done.

“Fortunately, the community has tremendous schools and a fabulous school district that all share our vision, a world where children realize their full potential. The community partnerships build a model which was adopted by Wilkinson Junior High School and 2018 is a perfect example of how we can come together to turn the vision into this great reality.”

Part of the ceremony included the opening of a Aza Health satellite on campus. Students, teachers and staff can receive healthcare services during school hours, while clinic will remain open after hours for the general public.

Those services will add to much-needed services already available at Wilkinson. Students and families can use washers and dryers, as well as getting clothes in a portable next to Aza. The school also offers mental health counseling, weekend meals, free or reduced breakfasts and lunches, eye care and tutoring.

Smith was hired to put together Wilkinson’s UCF application. The grant request was 57 pages, and it detailed the services offered – and needed – in Northwest Middleburg and Clay Hill areas.

“A lot went into this,” she said. “But it was worth it. This is a great day at Wilkinson.”

Former Florida Sen. Rob Bradley, who was a driving force to gain funding for the program in Tallahassee, said: “Not everybody gets to start with the same set of advantages. Some people win because they’re just the natural, but others are having to kind of climb a harder face of a mountain to get to where they need to be. We owe it to make sure that everybody has the same opportunity. That’s one of the core things of a good human being is serving our fellow man to make sure that everybody when they’re done with their schooling has the same opportunity. That’s the core mission of the community partnership school.’

The Clay County District Schools Police Department, Clay County Sheriff’s Office, school board members Tina Bullock, Janice Kerekes and Mary Bolla, joined officials from Habitat for Humanity Clay County, Community Partnership School, Aza Health, Children’s Home Society, Wilkinson school administration, including former principal Christina Cornwell and incoming principal Nate Warmouth and program volunteers also joined in the celebration.

The commitment from UCF and Children’s Home Society is for 25 years.

Superintendent David Broskie talked from the heart. He was so overwhelmed, that he didn’t need a script.

“You got to kind of take solace these days,” he said. “You’re only measured by how you treat everybody. In my heart, you are specially measured by how you treat those that need you the most. Right? So, I’m just so proud of everyone. I’m so proud of our community.

“We’re so thankful and so grateful because, ultimately, our students are going to be the ones that benefit.”

Originally posted by claytodayonline.com

By Don Coble