United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County currently employs four Resource Coordinators who work full time in four Asheville City and Buncombe County schools: Asheville, Enka, Erwin and Owen Middle. While our organization has held a presence in these local middle schools (and others via the Early Warning and Response System), for several years, the Resource Coordinator role is one that was born within the last three. Their position was created to be an on-site organizer, support person and facilitator for students, families and communities within that school district.They help identify the student and family needs and work with school staff to see if there are ways to develop or provide resources within the school as part of our Middle School Success Initiative.
Of course they do not do this alone. They work alongside community partners (nonprofits and public/private institutions) to help provide needed services and assist school administrators in better tracking student progress through our Early Warning and Response System. With the main tenets of our work as an organization being to fight for the financial stability, health and education for all, this certainly fits squarely within the framework of support for educational opportunity for local students.
Resource Coordinators + Community School Strategy
While the Resource Coordinator role was established for Enka Middle in 2015 and Erwin and Asheville 2016, this was the first year United Way had a presence in Owen Middle School. As we get ready to dive into the 2018-2019 school year, we wanted to take a moment and share highlights from that work over the past six months. We sat down with Owen Middle Resource Coordinator Josh Wells to help explain the work that he’s doing alongside our community partners who are dedicated to the success of students and families in our community.
“Across the country, communities are finding that they can better support student success if they can also help families and neighborhoods too, and that it all works better if they do that work INSIDE a school. We call this the ‘community school strategy’,” Wells shares. The school becomes a hub for how families access all of the different services that address their needs. They way I look at it is, ‘we’re looking to make schools more supportive of the whole student. We can provide a tutor but if a child is going home hungry or to an unsafe neighborhood, they are still in danger of falling behind.”
Wells continues, “We are also trying to remove barriers, making the school less ‘scary.’ Some parents don’t have the greatest memories of being in middle school or high school and because they don’t have the greatest memories, they might assume that when the teachers call it’s because something negative has happened. That doesn’t encourage or foster a positive relationship. If we can provide resources: food, access to mental health services, connections to legal advice, then we engage the parents and it is powerful because evidence shows that the more engaged they are, the more engaged the students will be and altogether the more involved the community is in the school and with one another.”
The three main needs we’re addressing at Owen for the next three years are:
- Provide mental health access/resources for groups/individuals in the school
- Increase parent engagement/connection with the school
- Increase transportation options
In order to meet those needs, Wells and the Middle School Success team work with a series of community partners. “There are a number of people, organizations and resources doing the work needed to fill these gaps. It’s identifying the need, tapping those resources and asking what we can do to help bridge the gap,” Wells shares. In fact, many of those community partners meet once a month as part of the Resource Team for this school and school district community. Currently that team is comprised of retired teachers, parents and administration from Owen Middle, staff from Buncombe County Family Court, YMCA, professors from Warren Wilson, administration from Black Mountain Primary and Elementary, additional United Way staff and many more from the Owen community. They meet to share updates on the programs they help facilitate in the school, to help share resources and to provide strategy/support for one another.
Highlights from Owen Middle for the 2017-2018 school year:
- 13 Homework Diners held with nearly 400 in attendance total from 42 households + over 1,000 meals provided
- 10 students received ongoing tutoring with help from newly recruited community volunteers
- 120 students participated in after school activity programs by YMCA Horizons
- Warren Wilson College provided 55 volunteers who gave more than 800 hours to support Homework Diners as well as support with service-learning courses, the natural impact initiative and SLAM, a program focused on science experiments with elementary students.
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC had 8 girls participate in an ongoing mentorship group
- Valley Hope Church organized a clothing closet and help to clean the courtyard and maintain the school grounds
- MANNA FoodBank provides food assistance
“We’re working to make sure our school resource team is comprised of as wide a range of people as possible; bringing in more perspectives from the community,” shares Wells. “This isn’t just to benefit middle school. We’re trying to establish adult resource hours as well with computers set up and other things. Across the nation, some community schools are open from 6am-11pm with healthcare access, after school activities, meals. In a way, then it’s no longer just the middle school, it’s now a hub for an entire community.”
Want to get involved in volunteering at Owen Middle as part of the Homework Diners or interested in mentoring a student for the upcoming school year? Find out more and sign up to spend a few hours helping a student in need. Not able to volunteer yet would like to support this work? Make a donation.