Mercer Street Friends Partner Schools

Benjamin C. Gregory Elementary School

Gregory Elementary is Mercer Street Friends’ newest Community School.  Building on the successes of our work at Rivera Community Middle School, Mercer Street Friends has partnered with the B. C. Gregory elementary school, where it believes that all students can learn and reach their highest academic and social potential. Additionally, it believes that the environment for learning will be safe, rigorous, and inclusive while embracing the cultural diversity of this evolving school community.

During this venture, Mercer Street Friends has also developed a coalition of partners with other community agencies to provide a full-service community school (FSCS). These partners include UIH Family Partners, TCNJ, The Center for Child and Family Achievement (CCFA), and the United Way of Greater Mercer County (UWGMC), under the auspices of the Board of Education and the B.C. Gregory elementary school.

Since beginning our partnership in 2017, Mercer Street Friends has been working with the faculty, administration, students, community partners and parents at the school to improve students’ academic performance, attendance, and social/emotional well-being. 

After a comprehensive needs assessment was completed, it was discovered that there were three overarching priorities that needed to be addressed in the school system. These concerns included addressing chronic absenteeism, literacy improvement, and parent engagement.

The services that Mercer Street Friend’s currently provides or coordinates at B.C. Gregory Elementary School include:

  • Trauma-informed Individual, group and family counseling
    to approximately 50 students and family members
  • Additional wrap-around services,
    and providing one-on-one support for at-risk students.
  • Mercer Street Friends Food Bank has provided an estimated 4000 nutritious and kid-friendly SHUP bags to 110 students as well as holiday meals and personal hygiene bags to students and their families at various community events
  • Grief counseling
  • DBT and mindfulness groups
  • Parent education and support groups
  • Crisis management in a classroom setting
  • Participation in I &RS meetings, IEP and 504 meetings
  • Programmatic functioning within the school such as:
    Grandparents Day and Back to School Night
  • Parent crisis management

Our team of social workers, family resource workers and student interns from the various colleges and universities in the area provide and coordinate services for the roughly 550 Kindergarten through 5th grade regular and special education students.  

Even though are staff size is small, we are involved in just about every aspect of the student’s experience and have become a huge resource for the students, families, administration and faculty of Gregory. By addressing the non-academic barriers to our student’s success such as parental engagement, food insecurity and chronic absenteeism, we are making an impact on the students, families and the community.  

During the 2018-2019 school years, we are out to make an even bigger impact.  The Princeton Area Community Foundation has awarded a total of $3 million in grants to 10 nonprofit and school partnerships that will work to reduce chronic absenteeism in our region and Mercer Street Friends is one of those awardees. 

This grant will allow us to implement our program “Achieve and Succeed” and build on our existing use of the Check and Connect Program, a program focusing on chronic absenteeism as well as provide new services to address key factors that contribute to absenteeism throughout the educational pipeline. 

Our initiative reflects MSF’s organizational-wide approach to provide services from “cradle to career” and uses a holistic, collaborative model to address the many underlying reasons for student absences, which include matters outside the school; such as lack of parental engagement, family circumstances (poverty, illness, and medical issues), a death of a role model, transportation barriers, safety, and health, wellness and hunger. 

Luis Munoz Rivera Middle School

In September 2015 Mercer Street Friends partnered with the Trenton Board of Education and became the leader of the community schools movement in Trenton New Jersey by helping transform the Luis Munoz Rivera Middle School into the Luis Rivera Community Middle School

“A school should be the hub of the community, a place where ALL stakeholders feel welcome and safe. It is my hope that with our partnership with Mercer Street Friends, Rivera Middle School will become such a school. ALL stakeholders should be provided opportunities for learning, engagement, and socialization. 

Once these opportunities become the norm, not just during but also outside of traditional school hours, we will begin to fulfill the goal of Rivera/Mercer Street Friends Community School.” 
– Bernadette Trapp, Principle of Rivera 2015

Non-academic barriers to learning:

MSF; while serving as the lead agency within Rivera, has forged partnerships with other community agencies and has integrated a multitude of services and programs into the school for the students, families and community members of Rivera that address non-academic barriers to learning. 

Partnering with other agencies and institutions such as The College of NJ, United Way, McCarter Theatre, Princeton Blairstown Organization, UIH Family Partners, Boys and Girls Club of America to name a few, we provide:

  • Trauma-informed mental health counseling for students and their families,
  • Truancy and absenteeism prevention programs,
  • Weekend meal packages or SHUP (Send Hunger Packing) for our students; 98% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches
  • Coordination and expansion of after-school programs
  • Mentoring and life skills programming
  • Wellness fairs that include vision, health, and dental screenings
  • Free tax preparation
  • Parental stress reduction programs and parent support groups
  • Computer training and access to the internet
  • Financial literacy programs and workshops

Addressing chronic absenteeism:

We improved the attendance of almost 50 students identified as chronically absent through the use of the Check and Connect Program by linking them up with a trained adult mentor. Due to this program and our work with the school leadership, we have helped reduce chronic absenteeism within the school from 31% in 2015 down to 18%

Summer enrichment programming

Last year our staff with the help of graduate students from TCNJ, Rutgers, and Rider and other colleges and universities provided services and had contact with every one of the 446 students in some way, in addition to their families and other community members. 

We provided trauma-informed mental health counseling to over 80 students at no charge to them or their families that they may not have had access to otherwise. 

With the help of the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, we provided an estimated 6,560 nutritious and kid-friendly SHUP bags to 164 students as well as holiday meals and personal hygiene bags to students and their families at various community events. 

Over the summer we provided a summer enrichment program for incoming 6th graders and some returning middle school students to prevent summer learning loss, which by some estimates is up to 3 times greater for youth growing up in poverty. 

This 6-week STEAM-focused program was free to participants and we provided ELA and Math classes, fun and educational science, technology and arts activities in addition to free breakfast and lunches to all our students. 

In addition, 19 students went on a no-cost 5 day, 4-night camping trip to the Princeton-Blairstown Center, a STEM camp situated on 286 acres of forests and lakes who provide this experience for students from Trenton, Newark and New York City. 

It was a successful school year and an enriching summer.