Federal Grant to Help United Way Remove Barriers to Learning
Over $2 million in government funds will be infused into community schools program
Success in school is far from granted. Most of us can remember a concept we couldn't grasp or a subject that gave us trouble. But many of us were also fortunate enough that learning to spell "neighbor" or reduce fractions was the most of our worries.
There is no one common denominator as to why some students pass and others fail, but adversity outside the classroom never helps. Chronic illness, trauma, mental health concerns, food insecurity, racism and social injustice, and housing instability are just a number of external circumstances that can make it difficult to succeed in — or even attend — school. The potential stumbling blocks are many and varied.
In keeping with their mission to SMASH poverty (and those stumbling blocks), the United Way of Erie County recently announced their partnership with UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe Harbor and Gannon University in a project entitled "Removing Barriers to Learning Through Case Management at Erie's Community Schools." The initiative will serve 3,138 high-risk, low-income students attending the five pilot United Way community schools — Strong Vincent and East middle schools and Edison, McKinley, and Pfeiffer Burleigh elementary schools.
Greatly aiding the cause will be a $2,031,397 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, the largest ever received in United Way's 105-year history. Funding will begin on Oct. 21, 2020 and be dispersed over a 5-year period. Over $8 million has been set aside for the project in total (the rest from non-governmental sources), which is aiming for improved attendance, mental and behavioral health supports, and connection to community resources through blended case management. A UPMC Western blended case manager will work directly with students and their families to help them obtain the supportive services they need.
Meanwhile, Gannon University will help build a predictive model to detect the social, emotional, and psychological indicators signaling a need for those services. Along the way, Gannon will look at what contributes to school absence, emotional adjustment and self-esteem issues, depression and anxiety, and the quality of social relationships. Their evaluative role will be data-driven and look to maximize the utilization of community resources. Dr. John Rainey, a published expert in special needs teaching, will lead the charge.
To sum it up, Gannon VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Walter Iwanenko said: "By creating these models, we want to reach one overarching goal with our partners — identify the most important aspects of our children's experiences that help them lead successful, healthy, happy lives."
Matt Swanseger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org