Community

Weis Elementary gets more help for Community School

From left, Assistant Principal Christine Baker and Principal Holly Magee at Weis Elementary School in Pensacola.

Portions of a nearly a $1 million grant from the University of Central Florida will go to C.A. Weis Elementary School to help with first-year operational costs in starting a community-based model of service and intervention programs.

The Center for Community Schools and Child Welfare Innovation (https://www.cohpa.ucf.edu/communityschools), based at the College of Health and Public Affairs, will receive the funding in the new fiscal year to continue its work with Evans Community School in Orlando and expand the community-school model to other schools in the state.

The state grant allocated $900,000 to UCF to help children in low-income, disadvantaged communities succeed in school, pursue higher education and improve their lives.

The partners who helped created Evans Community School (http://evanscommunityschool.org) in 2012 – Children’s Home Society of Florida, Orange County Public Schools, Central Florida Family Health Center (now True Health) and UCF – launched the Center for Community Schools and Child Welfare in 2014 thanks in part to the success at Evans.

Last year the UCF center provided grants to public schools in Brevard, Pasco and Escambia counties. The new funding will allow for more schools to come online, including a Community School at Weis Elementary School.

“We’ll receive enough funding to award planning and first-year operational grants to schools interested in developing community schools,” said Dave Bundy, director at the center. “We know it is extremely successful in terms of student performance and it is a cost-efficient model.”

Weis Elementary already has gotten a $75,000 Community School grant — with $25,000 matching funds from Escambia County School District and Children’s Home Society — to hire a director and evaluate the needs of the school and the community.

Community schools aim to tear down the barriers that can interfere with a child’s educational success from poverty to a lack of health care. At Evans, for example, students and parents have access to primary health care, dental care, mental health care, free meals, food pantry, snack closet, job-assistance programs, tutoring, mentoring and additional help. Community partners provide all these services at discounted rates on site year-round.

The concept includes a host of opportunities, including after-school programs, mentoring, job training, continuing education and health and wellness services for students, parents, teachers and community residents.

Part of the Community School could include providing day car, offering job training, tips on budgeting and balancing check books, taking care of health, helping parents so they can help they can help their children.

Members of the village who will be partners in the Community School effort include the Children’s Home Society, the University of West Florida, Sacred Heart Hospital, Escambia Community Clinics and Escambia School District Title I representatives.

The planning phase for the Community School program cold take about a year, but organizers hope to finish sooner. It is expected to cost between $300,000 to 500,000 a year to operate the Community School, officials say.

Bundy said that since Evans started the model, graduation rates have risen from 60 percent to 80 percent.

“The idea is to remove barriers and let children focus on learning,” Bundy said.

Along with Weis Elementary, Endeavour Elementary School in Cocoa is working with the center to develop plans to follow the community model.

“It’s a good model for schools that struggle in terms of student performance and that are in distressed neighborhoods,” Bundy said. “We are happy to be able to partner with community organizations to help students succeed. Helping students attain a good education is a wise investment in our children and our future as a community.”