Massena Central working with many groups, agencies to help at-risk students through Community Schools program
Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 8:10 pm

By ANDY GARDNER 

MASSENA -- Numerous local organizations and agencies are now working with the Massena Central School District to coordinate with helping struggling students and families in school and at home.

At Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, the MCS Community Schools coordinator, Kristin Collarusso-Martin, outlined the program’s current initiatives and talked about future plans.

Community Schools is a state-funded program to link students with services to help them graduate.

The MCS Community Schools board includes members of administration, teachers, public health, probation, clergy, mental health workers, local government, law enforcement and harm-reduction advocates.

Collarusso-Martin said she wants to see the board “guide grassroots change” in the community.

“Right now, the focus is on substance abuse prevention,” she said.

Superintendent Pat Brady said having faith representatives on the board does not bring a separation of church and state issue.

“It’s not promoting a religion. This is a community partnership with any faith-based organization that wants to be a part of our communtiy schools model. It’s not promoting any particular faith so there isn’t a legal issue,” he said. “They have access to resources, too.”

Collarusso-Martin said one of the links the program has made with law enforment is what has been dubbed “Handle with Care.” That means when Massena village police respond to an incident where an MCS student is involved or present, they notify her and she passes that along to the teacher so they know to watch out for any behavior changes.

“I check out what school the student is in and I email the teacher and guidance counselor … so they know something happened,” she said.

She said she wants to expand the partnership to other local law enforcement agencies.

“Wouldn’t it be neat if we could do a Handle with Care for [Department of Social Services] … or with the sheriff’s department, and the troopers, and victims advocates,” she told the board.

The initiative also involves bringing mental health workers into the school to help kids, with parental permission. Right now, Massena Wellness Center is sending a therapist to the junior high for the morning part of a day and the high school in the afternoon portion.

“Massena Wellness Center has really stepped up and come to the table,” she said.

They also have what the district is calling a Mobile Integration Team working to help elementary students in need, again with parental permission.

“If the children say something that raises flags, they can turn around and do a home visit,” Collarusso-Martin said. “We had a nice MIT success story from Nightengale a couple weeks ago.”

She said county probation and DSS officials are meeting with the school on a regular basis to discuss high-risk students.

The campaign also has a public relations angle. Some may have noticed billboards near Frenchie’s on state Route 37 and at the Massena Police Department. Those messages, which include information about the importance of attendance, come from the Community Schools program and are displayed for free, which Collarusso-Martin described as “good partnerships.” The program also hosted the Oct. 26 Trunk or Treat, with brought together 1,500 students and family members for a Halloween event from across the local socio-economic spectrum, she said.

Looking forward, Collarusso-Martin said she wants to get lice kits to give to families.

“It’s really a big problem with some of our families. We’re trying to work with public health to see if we can get some of those,” she said.

She also wants to see them work on student internships and mentoring, an activity where high schoolers get to experience college life for a day, essential items drives, “adopt a grandparent” and working with other local Community Schools programs to trade ideas.

School board members seemed impressed with the effort so far.

“This sounds wonderful,” board vice president Lorie MacKenzie said.

“Wow, you have tackled a lot,” board president Pat Bronchetti said. “I think the Handle with Care is an awesome idea.”