SARANAC LAKE — Erica Bezio brought a rotary phone to the Saranac Lake school board’s meeting last month to illustrate her role as the district’s Community Schools liaison.
The old, bulky phone did one thing — make calls. Similarly, schools used to just offer education.
Bezio pulled out a smartphone. Now, she said, phones have many functions — they’re cameras, entertainment, tools and “lifelines.” Similarly, she added, schools now are responsible for children’s nutrition, physical education, physical and mental well-being and entertainment.
The Community Schools program’s goal, she said, is to ensure that the district’s children have the best home life possible, which means they’re more likely to be successful in school.
Four years into the district’s Community Schools effort, the program is expanding, and educational leaders say they’re proud of what the district provides for students and their families. The district is hiring a second Community Schools coordinator.
School board member Joe Henderson described Community Schools as a “reaction to broader social and political failures.”
By the numbers
SLCSD Superintendent Diane Fox said the program costs under $100,000 a year, between funding from taxpayers and grants. But there’s also lots of donors and volunteers who are willing to offer help through the district, even at a financial loss.
The results are hard to measure quantitatively because often, the program is preventing hardships before they happen. But Fox said the qualitative results from the Community Schools program are tangible.
She fought tears as she talked about a student whose family was able to keep their house because the district helped them make rent when they were threatened with eviction.
Bezio loves seeing the “Red Storm” water bottles they hand out around town.
Since 2018, Fox said the district has sent students home for the weekend with backpacks full of food 8,000 times. This grant-funded effort cost $50,600. Fox said the number of students getting these backpacks rose from 40 to 80 this year.
Bezio said with a grant, the district was able to pay 36 families’ internet bills during the coronavirus pandemic, offering up to $110 per month to help students attend online classes. This service is still available, she said, but some families live where there’s no internet available at all.
School board members say they are proud they’re able to support their neighbors.
The program and its community liaison, Bezio, are funded through local school taxes. SLCSD board member Jeremy Evans said he’s grateful the community supports this program, adding that taxpayers elsewhere might …….