OCEANSIDE — A new Oceanside Unified School District initiative is in the works to help remove students’ barriers to education by building stronger connections between school staff and the community.
Mission, Libby and Laurel elementary schools and Jefferson Middle School have become “community schools,” according to a recent announcement on the district’s initiative. The four schools were chosen based on their individual needs.
Accordingly, the school district has hired four new staff members, one for each school, to help improve students’ educational outcomes by connecting them and their families to resources such as healthcare, dental, mental health and social services.
“These communities are under-resourced, have a higher level of multi-language learners, and have a higher number of people living below the county health index,” said Donald Bendz, communications director for the school district.
With the community schools program, the district aims to ensure fair access to education to all students without any outside barriers holding them back.
“This program really takes a look at the whole child,” said Rosana Martinez, community school coordinator at Mission Elementary School. “Our role is really understanding the needs of each community at each school site, which can be different.”
Because the program only just started at the beginning of 2022, the coordinators are currently working to identify the needs at each school site to begin chipping away at those barriers.
Martinez said they are available on campus each school day for parents. The program has also released a survey to help gather more information about what needs the community has.
“We can’t do this work alone,” Martinez said. “It really takes a village to raise a child, and the community school program models that.”
The vision behind the community schools program is to create a partnership between the parents, schools and community resources.
“The key part is bringing families into the schools to be full partners,” said Assistant Superintendent Mercedes Lovie.
Lovie said the district set aside $400,000 to help develop the program over the next few months.
Community schools also coincide with the new wellness center being installed in one of Jefferson Middle School’s rooms where students can learn how to take care of themselves physically and emotionally through exercise, healthier eating habits, and avoiding substance abuse.
Lovie said a grant from the county will help the district put wellness centers at each of the four community schools.
So far, Oceanside Unified is the only district in North San Diego County to implement a community schools program. Other nearby school districts that have similar programs include San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified School Districts.
“Oceanside is leading the way,” Lovie said.