The Honorable Bonnie Watson-Coleman, Representative of the 12th Congressional District, was the Guest of Honor at the official ribbon cutting ceremony for Trenton’s first community school on Tuesday, February 16. Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson attended the event as well, along with other elected officials from Mercer County and Trenton and representatives from the Trenton Public Schools.
Mercer Street Friends was recently awarded a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to pilot a community school model at Luis Rivera Middle School, now officially known as the Luis Rivera Community Middle School.
The community school model expands the traditional concept of a school house and transforms the school into a place where the educational, as well the physical and emotional needs of the students and their families are addressed. This model also brings the assets of the community into the school, involving parents, teachers, students and community organizations equally. Community schools buzz with activities, providing support services for students and their families after school, on weekends and during the summer.
“Our schools should provide every resource to allow students to meet their potential,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman. “The community school model steps outside of the traditional classroom experience to give students access to counseling, to engage parents, and to offer after hours and weekend opportunities to ensure every student stays on the right track.”
The U.S. Department of Education Full Service Community Schools Implementation Grant is a highly competitive award which targets five core services: assistance to students who have been chronically absent, truant, suspended, or expelled; family engagement, including parent training and activities; mental health services; mentoring and other youth development programs; and access to other community-based supports and services.
Dr. Shannon Mason, executive director of Mercer Street Friends, spent the past three years laying the ground work for the success of the Trenton Community Schools Initiative. An advocate for strength-based integrative approaches to capacity building, Dr. Mason stated that, “One of the unique features of this approach is that we didn’t start off by simply asking ‘What is absent?’ We started by asking, ‘What is present?’ That always changes the conversation.”
Mercer Street Friends’ Director of Youth Services and Clinical Initiatives, Anniesha Walker, and her staff moved into the Rivera school at the beginning of the school year. They are working with students, getting to know families, listening to and learning from all the school’s stakeholders.
“I’m thrilled to see this model start a pilot run in my District, and I look forward to the positive impact it’s sure to make in our community,” said Representative Watson-Coleman. “There is nothing more important to me than making sure that the next generation of young minds can reach the bright future that they deserve.”