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Nine Upstate School Districts Receive $3 Million Investment in Community Schools Health Initiatives

July 8th, 2021

Sodus — A new project, titled Community Schools: Optimal Health Initiative,” will be investing $3 million in community schools and agencies that serve youth in Wayne and Onondaga Counties. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and will begin in July 2021. The Optimal Health Initiative unites a broad consortium of nine school districts that include six districts in Wayne County and two districts in Onondaga County: Sodus CSD (Lead Education Agency for the grant), Clyde-Savannah, Lyons, Newark, North Rose-Wolcott, Red Creek, Syracuse City, and Solvay Union Free.

The project will provide resources to identify and address root causes that impede the development of resilience and well-being in youth and support mentoring, afterschool programs, community-building, and attachment-building programs. Each of these efforts will be designed to encourage collaboration between agencies that work with young people. The project is unique in its purposeful inclusion of rural, suburban, and urban school districts and calls for a hyper-local Community Schools strategy to ensure that each community and school has a voice in how the grant is implemented.

Community Schools Director, Jay Roscup, was one of the lead grant writers on the project and is the Project Director. He is looking forward to developing varied approaches that fit each community, stating, “Community Schools are about place-based and person-centered work. The idea of Community Schools is national, but how the strategy implementation is structured and prioritized is a local decision. I’m looking forward to hearing youth and family voice come together to drive this project uniquely at each location.” Sodus Central School District Superintendent Nelson Kise is a champion for Community Schools partnerships, saying “Collaboration is just part of our culture at Sodus. We know working together is how we will get the best outcomes for students.” Kise has presented at regional forums on Community Schools, and Sodus is also a recipient of a Full-Service Community Schools grant. Bridgette Barr, Community Schools Administrator at North Rose-Wolcott, was another lead writer on the proposal and will help anchor the project in Wayne County along with Jill Harper, the Sodus-based Community Schools Health Integration Specialist for multiple Wayne County school districts. In Onondaga County, Peaceful Schools is the lead agency for the work, and Dr. Lura Lunkenheimer, President and CEO, shared that “Peaceful Schools has been a champion of the development of Community Schools for the past five years in Syracuse, and we know that our city schools and Solvay Union Free middle and high school sites will be able to develop strategies that reduce the impact of youth and family risk factors and build resilience for young people.”

Syracuse University professor Ryan D. Heath will be regularly involved in the project to help analyze the impact and identify what is working. Dr. Heath said, “I am honored and excited to be part of the Optimal Health Initiative, which is innovative for its combination of evidence-based interventions and holistic youth development during school and out-of-school time. It emphasizes systems-level approaches, rigorous data and evaluation, and locally-driven implementation. It is well-positioned to make a meaningful impact on youth in Wayne in Onondaga counties.”

The project will also expand the opportunity for paid internships for college students to serve in local schools. One of the first steps of the project will be to create an advisory board of students, family members, and community members. Optimal Health Coordinators will be hired to help operate programs, build connections with young people, find barriers to wellness like access to doctors’ offices, and solutions to those barriers. Agencies will share trainings to reduce costs and build sustainable program pathways. Having multiple agencies trained to use the same resources, intervention strategies, and curriculum materials will help make the work about the people and the place, not about any single agency.

Further information on the project can be obtained by emailing

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