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Legislation aims to help create more ‘community schools’

MARTINS FERRY — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is hoping to help create more “community schools,” which are districts that offer a wide scope of services outside of the classroom — health and dental care, counseling, food pantries and more.

During a news conference held via telephone Wednesday, Brown said to help in this effort he is introducing the Full Service Community School Expansion Act.

The legislation would help schools work with resources and partners in the community to provide these additional services.

The goal of the bill, which is part of the $130 billion Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, is to address students’ personal needs so teachers can focus on educating them inside the classrooms.

Brown noted there are several districts across the state that provide some similar extra services already. For example, in Belmont County the Martins Ferry City School District has a room where it offers food, personal hygiene items and some clothing to students in need, all for free.

One example of a district that provides comprehensive services is in Cincinnati. Neil Stewart, a teacher from Cincinnati, said during the news conference that his district’s Community Learning Center has a health center on site, a vision center and a food pantry.

Stewart said his school learned about the program via the Community Learning Center Institute in Cincinnati.

For the past 10 years, the institute has helped schools across the country become community hubs, according to its website www.clcinstitute.org.

The institute’s main “laboratory schools” include the Academy of World Languages, Mt. Airy School, Mt. Washington School, Oyler School, Roberts Paideia Academy and Sayler Park School.

Also participating in the call was Dennis Foreman, a Ross County, Ohio, teacher. He said he was grateful Brown was introducing the legislation.

He added his school is in dire need of help to purchase the basics — including work to its buildings and infrastructure, books, computers and access to broadband for its students learning remotely from home.

He believes part of the money problem is that the district is poorly funded at the state level. The tax dollars that get funneled back into the district are lacking. He noted there are large companies that have made the area their home, but they received tax abatements as incentives to locate there, which means no additional funding for the district.

“I feel they want us to run the Indy 500 with a Model A Ford,” Foreman said of the state’s expectations of the school and its current resources.

Brown believes the state legislature has been “derelict” in its efforts to take care of public schools.

Brown’s legislation is being introduced this week, which is Public Schools Week as designated by the Senate.

“We know how challenging this pandemic has been for everyone in our school system — students, teachers, parents, principals, school boards. They’ve been left to figure this out, largely on their own, with no good options and not enough resources. These investments will not only help us recover from this pandemic — they’ll help us build a stronger public school system for the long term,” Brown said.

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