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December 1, 2016 (Times Union) 

THE ISSUE: Programs in Troy and Schenectady are targeting poverty.  

THE STAKES: Their success warrants continued state funding for "community schools" and similar efforts.  


Educators and legislators have long struggled with the challenge of how to reverse the sagging performance of students in poor inner city and rural school districts. Resources help, but just throwing more money at the problem isn't enough.  

We draw hope from two developments this week, one in Troy, the other in Schenectady — both cities where public school students have difficulty meeting minimum state standards. Both districts have abysmal graduation rates compared to wealthier suburban districts nearby. Now, in each community, successful programs have taken aim at the broader problem: poverty, and the stress it puts on families — and students.

A report this week by the New York State School Boards Association uses Troy's School 2 to illustrate how the concept of "community schools" has been effective in elevating student performance. Using some state grant money, the Troy school partners with the Commission on Economic Opportunity, a local nonprofit, and Rensselaer County, which provides mental-health services. Capital Roots offers nutritional education to students. Girls Inc. presents its proven successful program that builds students' self-esteem. This multifaceted approach has yielded measurable increases, year over year, in both reading and math scores by the students at School 2.  

In Schenectady, officials announced a similar coming together of community resources to ensure that students are healthy and are encouraged to live healthier lives. Hometown Health, a health center which for more than four decades has treated patients in Schenectady regardless of their ability to pay, is teaming up with the city school district. Health clinics have been opened in both Mont Pleasant Middle School and Schenectady High, and its services are available to all the district's nearly 10,000 students.

Costs will be covered by those students who have health insurance, through Medicaid and from various grants. Nobody will be denied the services at these in-school health clinics.  

While the two cities' programs are different, both efforts demonstrate what educators have long argued: For students to succeed in the classroom, nonacademic barriers to learning, such as poverty, hunger and family strife, must be dealt with.  

In lauding the success in Troy, the school boards association said the community schools program has potential to be "a great equalizer, especially for children in poverty." In Schenectady, School Board President Cathy Lewis summed their program up simply: "Healthy kids learn better."  

The current state budget includes $175 million to develop community schools, but continued funding is not automatic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators need to continue the commitment, and be prepared to expand it if the efforts continue to prove their value. These programs won't break the bank, but they could help break the cycle of poverty that has cost New York and its children so dearly.  


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