Today 1889 Foundation announced a grant of $200,000 has been awarded to the Greater Johnstown School District (GJSD) to fund an expanded partnership with Communities in Schools, the nation’s largest provider of technical assistance for the community schools model. (Photo above: Jim Cascio, president of 1889’s board of directors; Amy Arcurio, GJSD superintendent; Susan Mann, president of 1889 Foundation). 

Communities in Schools works to bring coordinated, integrated student services into public schools to meet the needs of at-risk students, depending on what that particular district needs. Phase I of the initiative has been ongoing at GJSD since September 2018, and the grant announced today will help fund Phases II and III.

“Communities in Schools provides our students and families of our district the ability to access services which break down the barriers that often prohibit their success. These services work to strengthen the family unit and the whole child — socially, emotionally, physically and academically. Our students are capable of reaching greater heights once their identified challenges are met with services and safety nets to support their climb,”  stated Amy Arcurio, Superintendent.

When the Communities in Schools initiative was first undertaken in 2018, research was conducted to determine what barriers to learning exist at GJSD. School data and input from parents, teachers, administrators, and students identified three key barriers: attendance; parental engagement; and student behavioral/mental health.

Additionally, further barriers to learning that are associated with health were identified in the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment, a local assessment conducted by Conemaugh Health System, and the United Way of the Laurel Highlands.

To address these issues, GJSD established a lead team including community partners to implement Communities in Schools. In Phase I, a Communities in Schools director, Amy Beitel, was hired in the middle school.

Phase I also integrated two social services into the elementary and middle school:

  • Healthcare: Highland Health Free and Charitable Health Clinic is now providing basic healthcare needs to kids, including immunizations, primary care, and even physicals for participation in sports. A physician works in the middle school one day a week.
  • Behavioral/mental health support: Alternative Community Resource Program (ACRP) is screening kids for “at risk” behaviors. Evidence-based interventions are being provided to the children at highest risk via nine district behavior specialists.

GJSD estimates that these services have reached 1,200 students so far.

The $200,000 grant announced today will help fund Phase II and Phase III of the Communities in Schools program, enabling GJSD to extend these services to the high school and adding an additional Communities in Schools director with a background in social work.

The new director will work with the school administration and community organizations to remove barriers to learning and increase supports for parents.

“Already, the community school director at Johnstown Middle School, Amy Beitel, has been working to ensure that all the kids have all necessary health, dental, and vision screenings, as well as community mental and behavioral supports for students,” said Susan Mann, president of 1889 Foundation. “The result has been a dramatic reduction in discipline referrals and suspensions. We’re excited about being able to help GJSD further expand this effective program.”