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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) – For many students, the classroom is their home away from home, which is why educators are always trying to make their classrooms feel like a community.

In Hartford, that is the goal district wide, since all of their facilities are considered community schools.

They are places where student and family needs are addressed from academics to mental health.

Hartford schools try to be more than a place to learn science or how to count. Over the years, students have stepped into classrooms needing more than help from a teacher.

“When you have a student coming in on an empty stomach, they are not able to be their best self. They are not able to go throughout the day and be mindful of what’s happening in the classroom or in their friendships, or anything,” Gelda St. Juste-Paul, director of the Village for Families and Children, tells us.

Educators have learned students need assistance with food, money, or mental health.

The needs are endless, but in a community school, people, like Gelda, have made it their job to bring solutions.

“The school did everything themselves. We had to solve all the problems. We had to meet students’ social and emotional needs, lots of mental health, trying our best with academics. We were trying to help families, so it was pretty hard,” Kesha Ryan, principal of the Fred Wish Museum, explained.

Ryan says that all changed four years ago when the Village became a main partner.

Now, this organization helps the school have access to mental health services, they try and improve attendance, and offer tutoring.

“We have food needs we have families that need clothing we have needs, in terms of social and emotional mental health, we have needs in terms of academics, so our community partners really help us with that,” says Ryan.

The districts’ nearly forty community schools are divided by their level of need, from tier one to four.

“A ‘level one’ school has certain supports. A ‘level two’ school has several supports, but we are expanding in our tier four and having full service community school with a lead agency like the Village,” Nuchette Blackburke, chief of family and community partners for Hartford Public Schools, said.

Nuchette says this new school year will bring four more schools to that top tier and become full serviced, a total of thirteen district wide.

Besides a lead agency, those fully serviced will even get clinicians inside schools.

“We are able to provide caring adults, who are trained and professional, who are able to not only care for that child and support the overall environment with connecting with that child, adjusting climate, and culture issues, but then we are also able to help the children get along with their peers,” Aldwin Allen, senior director of community programs for the Village of Family and Children.

And as school starts once again in a pandemic, educators say on top of their annual areas of improvement, mental health will be a focus point.

“We do it through disguise learning. We try and provide activities that talk about ‘How do you feel?’, ‘If you were to put all the feelings in a bucket, which ones would they be?’, so through that, we kind of pin point what the child is going through and then we can have a side conversation with that child to help them with whatever they are going through,” added St. Juste-Paul.

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