Social services in the schools

By Kathreen Harrison | Dec 24, 2015

The December 10 issue of the paper included an excellent editorial by The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board titled "Facing poverty in Rockland." The editorial discussed Rockland’s unfortunate status as"‘among the poorest communities in Knox County, far behind many of its neighbors," and pointed to the high level of food insecurity of residents of the city. The editorial pointed out that because Rockland provides low-income housing, is more or less walkable, and offers the largest number of low-skilled jobs in the area, the town attracts families in economic trouble, who send their children to South School and Rockland District Middle School.

I agree with the Editorial Board that we need a closer relationship between "…the schools, social service agencies, and business." In my opinion, during this time of restructuring of schools in RSU 13, we should be planning to house social service agencies right in the district’s buildings. We should have dedicated space for parenting education, job skills training, literacy classes, mental health services and dental and health clinics. Squarely targeting problems and providing tools for change is the way to break the cycle of poverty that weakens so many of the families in Knox County.

RSU 13 is planning some long-awaited building shifts partly due to decreasing enrollment in the district. Decreasing enrollment means there is a little space here and there that is underutilized. That space should be used to make sure families get the assistance they need to be able to support themselves and take adequate care of their children. As administrators organize school closings and moves, they should be simultaneously planning how to directly address the enormous impact on the schools of the large population of children living in poverty.

Those who do not spend time in the schools on a daily basis may not realize the complexity of teaching classrooms full of children with unmet needs. These children’s unmet needs impact both their own learning and the learning of other students in the schools.

Classrooms are regularly disrupted by students whose anger and sadness erupts -- hungry children, children whose parents are addicted to substances, children whose parents have no job skills or prospects, children who move frequently, sometimes in the middle of the night, those whose teeth hurt because they don’t go to the dentist – all of these unhappy children act out their problems in school, many on a daily basis. Eventually all the lost time adds up, leaving pretty much everyone behind their peers in less-troubled towns.

Continuing with the status quo in RSU 13, just in reorganized buildings, will not significantly change the level of education in the district. To improve the schools, and to improve the economy of Rockland, the social service agencies and the schools need to work more effectively together. The best way to start that work is to bring the services right to the families in their school buildings and make the schools the hubs of the town.

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