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Lincoln Elementary pilot school in new CommUNITY Schools effort

Teachers and parents agree that Lincoln Elementary School is already a community. From now on, it will be even more of a hub.

A new partnership between Grand Island Public Schools and Heartland United Way will give Lincoln parents easy access to a host of programs and resources.

Lincoln is the first such CommUNITY school in the district.

Parents and students will benefit from the program.

“We are going to bring some of our community services and things our parents want right here to the school,” Lincoln Principal Maureen Oman said. “It’s just going to connect us. It’s going to be great.”

The partnership was celebrated at a kickoff gathering Friday morning. Heartland United Way is the lead partner in the CommUNITY Schools project.

United Way’s 19 partner agencies will be involved in bringing resources to the school instead of having families traveling to them. In addition, United Way is providing the funding for a family consultant from Boys Town to work with Lincoln families.

Parents already feel like they have friends at Lincoln.

Lincoln social worker Kristin Schultz was excited last year when she heard about the school district’s plans for CommUNITY Schools.

She felt Lincoln was the perfect site “because we already had all that set up. The parents know to come here, or at least they feel comfortable enough to come here.”

Parents “come and ask us all sorts of questions,” Schultz said. They might “get a letter in the mail about the utilities and they don’t understand it so they come to school and ask for help.”

They might seek help with their kids, even if those students have moved on to middle school, high school or college, Schultz said. Perhaps they have questions about a paper they’ve received.

So Lincoln has “created a really good community already,” she said.

But now, by coordinating with other agencies in the community, “we will be able to give them that many more services,” Schultz said.

When parents need something, “We will have a partner in our back pocket that I can contact and they can come here and help the parent instead of me having to help coordinate them to go across town or schedule an appointment with somebody that they don’t know at a place that they’re not familiar with,” Schultz said.

The arrangement will be great for both the kids and their families, she said.

The partnership with United Way and other agencies will “bring services to our families in a very convenient location,” said Jennifer Worthington, the district’s chief of strategic partnerships and stakeholder engagement.

CommUNITY Schools are included in the school district’s strategic plan. The district plans to establish at least four community schools — one in each quadrant — within five years. The district will then “assess its impact on student outcomes,” a news release says.

The launch at Lincoln came ahead of schedule. Because of the enthusiasm at the school, “we started it early,” Worthington said.

Before getting started, the school surveyed the parents, Oman said.

Many of the requests involved health “and help with learning how to work with their kids in math and science and reading,” Oman said.

Parents also wanted some activities to do with family.

Thursday night, someone came from Happy Brush to paint with students.

For parents interested in home and safety, a first-aid class was offered for two nights.

In addition, “we’re lining up a dental screening” and “a job search and training course for parents,” Worthington said.

A budgeting workshop has taken place. “And then we’re looking at Common Sense Parenting, car seat check, cooking and nutrition classes at this point,” Worthington said.

The Heartland United Way has a goal of decreasing childhood poverty. The organization spent last year “listening and learning about innovative approaches to help people,” United Way President Karen Rathke said in a news release. “We heard repetitively time, travel and trust are barriers that prevent people from accessing help.”

In an interview Friday, Rathke said Lincoln was chosen as the pilot school “because there’s such a welcoming spirit here, and because so many of the families really trust the staff.”

Since so many families come to the staff with problems, Lincoln was “just a natural spot” to start the program, Rathke said.

Lincoln Elementary pilot school in new CommUNITY Schools effort
By Jeff Bahr