Community at the Heart of School: Providing the Basics -- and More -- For All

At this New York public school, all children get the care they need.

At this New York public school, all children get the care they need.

When students at Public School 5 in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood need assistance with health, social, or emotional problems, help is just a few doors away.

The offices of the Community School Program are centered at the heart of the school, a location which signifies the program's importance in the education and care of the school's 1,300 kindergarten through fifth-grade students, their families, and the community. Administered by the Children's Aid Society (CAS), the Community School Program is open to the Washington Heights community from 7:45 A.M. to 8:45 P.M. each weekday to provide a multitude of services.

With many children and families in the school's low-income neighborhood struggling daily with the stresses of poverty, violence, and immigration, the program's mental health and social services are in great demand. On-site health and dental clinics mean students can get the care they need when they need it. After school, the Extended Day Program keeps 300 kids busy with homework help, gym, dramatics, and other activities.

"Over half of the activities are taught by teachers from the school. This provides continuity for the students," says program coordinator Martha Rodriguez Rivera. Saturday and summer programs give students opportunities for recreation during out-of-school periods.

Parents get the help and support they need as well at P.S. 5. A parent coordinator provides services such as counseling and referrals to local agencies. New parents learn parenting skills and have quality time to interact with their children as part of the Head Start Program and the Hasbro Early Childhood Center, which provide care for children aged zero to five. An Adult Education program offers courses year-round in computer literacy and English as a Second Language, and parents and community members can also study for naturalization certificates and their GED. Parents can meet together throughout the day in a room of their own on the school site.

The school responds to the community by creating new programs as needs become apparent. The CAS site director, Lisette Resto Brooks, tries to anticipate needs by keeping in touch with the residents and watching trends and legislation. For example, the school now offers a parenting skills and support group for relatives, such as grandparents, who are raising children which are not their own. A newly opened immigration center helps immigrant parents navigate the citizenship and immigration process by providing assistance with legal questions, test preparation, and applications.

"It's not about our own agenda, but about meeting the needs of the families in the community," explains Linda Lausell Bryant, a member of the CAS staff at the school.

This article originally published on 7/1/1997

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