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Task Force Visits Acclaimed Wrap-Around School
Dec. 15, 2017 -- From the outside, Oyler School in Cincinnati looks like an ordinary building. Rectangular, brick and stone, medium-sized. But from the inside, it’s “breathtaking,” according to CH-UH Board of Education member Beverly Wright.

She and four other members of the district’s Community In Schools Task Force recently drove to Cincinnati for an in-depth look at “the Cadillac of wrap-around schools.”

Oyler has gained national recognition for its groundbreaking embrace of wrap-around services and currently includes full-scale health clinics, including mental, dental and vision care, as well as child care, enrichment programming, one-to-one mentoring, and other agencies meeting a vast array of student needs.

The CH-UH district began looking at this model two years ago, led by Teachers Union President Ari Klein and Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon. The Community In Schools Task Force, made up of more than 30 district staff, community members, and representatives from potential partner agencies, began meeting last spring and plans to have a proposal to present to the school board by April.

The visit to Oyler was just one part of a long process, currently being guided by the United Way of Greater Cleveland, that will help the district identify student and family needs, explore various models of how to reach those needs, and develop a plan specific to our individual buildings.

While our district already offers various features of wrap-around services, including the Greater Cleveland Food Bank school market and Cleveland Clinic mobile unit at Boulevard and Oxford, one key goal of the Task Force is to devise a plan that would coordinate wrap-around services and include an evaluation component to ensure that programs were actually meeting identified needs.  

The Cincinnati Public Schools created campuses that “serve as hubs for community services, providing a system of integrated partnerships that promote academic excellence and offer recreational, educational, social, health, civic and cultural opportunities for students, families and the community,” according to their website. Oyler is their flagship. 

The building houses health clinics, including those for mental, vision and dental care, that “resemble University Hospitals or the Cleveland Clinic,” according to school social worker Josephine Shelton-Townes.

But the amazing thing is that, aside from an initial investment in planning and construction, all of these programs are self-sustaining. In other words, the school district does not pay to operate them. Each agency housed in a Cincinnati school building comes up with its own funding, whether that be by billing health insurance and Medicaid, charging fees for their services, or relying on their own pool of outside donors. The schools simply provide the space and coordinate a steady stream of clients -- these are children who need to visit the dentist anyway, but now they can do it right where they already are, just by walking down the school hall. 

It took years to put into place but once operational, Oyler discovered that the services it was providing were long overdue. Shortly after the vision center opened, school staff learned that more than half of their kindergartners needed glasses. More than half! While another school may have struggled to identify why so few students were learning to read or scrambled to provide expensive academic intervention, Oyler was able to identify the problem and the solution, all in one place.

Similarly, Oyler’s health clinic has a nurse practitioner who’s authorized to write and fill prescriptions. Imagine a child who goes to school with an ear infection. After suffering through class, this child visits the school nurse, who calls the parent, who has to leave work, make an appointment at a doctor’s office, bring the child to that appointment, wait for results and then visit a pharmacy to pick up a prescription, perhaps without access to a reliable car or while sacrificing their hourly wage. Now imagine the situation at Oyler, where again both the problem and the solution can be found under one roof.

All five visitors to Oyler noticed the sense of collaboration and coordination among staff members that pervaded the atmosphere of the building. Katie Davis, a nurse and School Health Program Director at Metro-Health, was impressed by “the alignment that exists between community partners and school administrators and educators. We could see everyone working together toward the same goal of academic success for all students. The teachers don’t complain when students are pulled out of class for appointments because they fully understand the benefit of meeting kids’ other needs while they’re at school.”

Lisa Hunt, Family Engagement Specialist for CH-UH, noted that “the community, school staff, and partner agencies have managed to achieve a centralized vision of ‘education first’ while simultaneously meeting so many other needs.”

Those who visited Oyler and the remaining members of the Community In Schools Task Force are hopeful that CH-UH can do the same. As with Oyler, Heights Schools want to focus on more than just the necessities like health care and food provision, and move beyond to mentoring, enrichment opportunities, in-depth college preparation. Representatives of the United Way will spend the next few months interviewing civic and business leaders as well as conducting focus groups with district parents and surveying teachers to determine priorities.

The Task Force will then use this information to propose a model that could work for CH-UH. Shelton-Townes hopes we can incorporate all of the health care agencies but also the mentoring, thereby demonstrating a true community commitment to our students. Nobantu Addis, a retired special education director and assistant pastor at Imani Temple Ministries who also visited Oyler, believes that community schools could be “a monumental improvement for our students, staff and community.”

Ari Klein agrees. Two years ago, he used an opinion piece in the Heights Observer to challenge readers: “Try teaching a child to read when he has a dental infection, needs glasses, or has not eaten in several days. It just does not work.” As Oyler has proven, wrapping services around a student and meeting their physical, mental, social and emotional needs in the very place they already go every single day, does. 
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