Since 2015, Mercer Street Friends has been the lead agency for the Community Schools initiative in the Trenton School District. A national model, a full-service Community School is a public elementary or secondary school that uses established partnerships between schools and community organizations to provide well-rounded educational opportunities and meet the social, emotional, physical and mental health, and academic needs of students. Community Schools participate in a community-based effort to coordinate and integrate educational, development, family, health, and other comprehensive services through community-based partnerships and provide access to such services in schools, to students, families, and the community during the school year and summer.
Social agencies, universities and others partner with the schools and have a focus on the following four pillars that can be used to address the needs of the whole child:
- Integrate Student Supports
- Expand Learning Time and Opportunities
- Engage Families and Communities
- Lead in Collaboration
In partnership with local social service agencies, as well as The College of New Jersey, Mercer Street Friends’ combines best educational practices with expanded learning opportunities through partnership with the Trenton School District and community organizations. Physical health, mental health and social services are provided in concert with academics to holistically promote the physical, emotional, and social well-being of students and their families.
Mercer Street Friends integrates student supports by facilitation of therapeutic services, partnership with Henry J. Austin Health Center and its mobile health clinic and Millhill Child and Family Development Center for mental health services, mentoring, addressing food insecurity by distributing weekend food bags, and through small group supports that focus on attendance, restorative practices, emotional self-regulation and social & emotional learning.
Expanded learning time and opportunities include Summer Bridge Programs and sports, STEM and Arts afterschool clubs. Mercer Street Friends also funds a Reading Intervention program at B.C. Gregory and Luis Munoz Rivera Elementary Schools with the purpose of supporting reading instruction for students performing below grade-level.
Families and communities are engaged through family events, health fairs, direct support for obtaining social service aid, distribution of Community Food Bags and parent education classes.
Mercer Street Friends Community Schools are led in collaboration by Site Coordinators and Case Managers who are members of the school-based Leadership Team, Attendance Team, Intervention and Referral Services Team.
Community Schools are viewed as a strategy for organizing the resources of the community around student success. This strategy is focused on public schools in underserved urban and rural areas.
How We Do It
The Community School program was established in 2015 in collaboration with Trenton Board of Education and has three partner schools:
- Luis Munoz Rivera Community Elementary School
- B.C. Gregory Elementary School
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School
National Partners are:
Partnership between schools and other community resources designed to improve student learning, stronger families and healthier communities by placing a holistic focus on:
- Parent and Family Support
- Mentoring and Emotional Support
- Youth Development and Enrichment
- Information and Referral Services
- Housing, Food and Basic Life Necessity Support
- Case Management Services
- A focus on support for those students experiencing chronic absenteeism and the underlying reasons as to why students miss school such as: bullying, trauma and abuse, food insecurity
With significant support from the All Kids Thrive Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation, we address chronic absenteeism, which can be a major threat to achieving positive educational outcomes for our students. Research shows students who are chronically absent – missing just 2 days per month or 10% of the school year – lose opportunities to succeed throughout their lives. Risk Factors for chronic absenteeism include homelessness, poverty, and chronic illness. Through the All Kids Thrive Fund we work to understand what makes a positive impact on chronic absenteeism to mitigate its effects on reading skills, math test scores, and dropout rates. Since its inception in 2017 through 2019, chronic absenteeism decreased by 18% at Luis Munoz-Rivera Community Middle School. Curriculums to address this issue included afterschool opportunities, as well as weekend and summer programming.
Mercer Street Friends also utilizes a mentoring approach towards addressing chronic absenteeism. Mentors have been local college students from The College of New Jersey’s and Rider University’s Bonner Scholars program. Through virtual and in-person mentoring, the Bonner Scholars have developed relationships with their student mentees that have afforded them the chance to stress the importance of education and school.
In the 2021-2022 school year there were 26 mentors supporting 38 students who were in danger of being chronically absent. With the help of their mentors, students’ chronic absenteeism dropped from 76% in September to 36% from April 1 to June 16. Additionally, students saw an increase in their average daily attendance rate from the 2020-2021 school year to 2021-2022 school year by 13% and grade point average increased 8%.