The programs, based in Pittsburgh and Allentown, were recently awarded a share of $63 million aimed at providing resources to help students and their families.
As families face financial hardships due to increased inflation and children continue to struggle with education loss and mental health issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, community school programs in eastern and western Pennsylvania are receiving funding to help.
Communities in Schools in Eastern Pennsylvania, an Allentown-based nonprofit, and Communities in Schools Pittsburgh-Allegheny County, located in Pittsburgh, are among the 42 institutions nationwide that will share in $63 million in federal money.
CIS in Eastern Pennsylvania assists students in the Allentown, Reading, Easton, Kutztown, and Whitehall school districts, among others. CIS in Pittsburgh-Allegheny County covers the East Allegheny, Sto-Rox (Stowe Twp. and McKees Rocks), Pittsburgh, and Duquesne school districts.
The money, channeled through the Full-Service Community Schools grant program, helps schools pay for additional staff, resources, and other needs.
Tim Mulligan, president and CEO of CIS in Eastern Pennsylvania, said his organization will receive $2.5 million over five years. In addition to staffing and other school resources, Mulligan said a main objective is to provide support to students facing barriers in their education.
“We are about answering the question, ‘Why is the student not coming to school ready to learn; what are the barriers that students face?’” said Mulligan. “Sometimes they are about basic needs, sometimes they are about health and mental health. We want to be in those places and those schools and those districts that have the highest needs. We believe that we are in a position where we can help to remove barriers and unlock potential and really project students toward success both in school and in life.”
According to Mulligan, CIS serves as a connector, bringing together all types of resources from the community to help not only students, but their families as well.
“We are always careful about what our lane is,” Mulligan said. “We are not the teachers. We are in that non-academic realm. But it’s often those other issues that cause a student’s struggles in school. From inflation and the added financial challenges that families face, it can produce a lot of family instability which is then carried over into the school environment.”
Mulligan said his organization has helped organize clothing closets and food pantries in school districts. They have helped families find resources to aid them in paying their rent and utility bills, and connected them to other community resources to address issues in the home.
“We try to build a trusting relationship with the student and their family,” Mulligan said. “We let them know that we are here for them and are their biggest champion and supporter. We try to identify the root of why they aren’t thriving and then address that to help that student advance.”
In a statement, US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called community school organizations like CIS an “essential component of accelerating our students’ learning and supporting their social, emotional, and mental health, and deepening community partnerships.”
“At the height of the pandemic, community schools connected students and families with vital nutrition assistance, mental, physical, and other health services, and expanded learning opportunities,” Cardona said.
Cardona pointed to studies showing that “well-implemented community schools — with integrated student supports, active family and community engagement, expanded and enriched learning time, and collaborative leadership practices — can lead to improved student and school outcomes, particularly for students in high-poverty schools.”