Community comes together to help Salem students

The Salem News

  • By Dustin Luca Staff Writer
  • Jan 7, 2018

SALEM — While it takes a village to raise a child, school officials are launching a campaign to help the village with the child's education as well.

A confluence of programs are coming together in a new Salem Public Schools initiative called "Our Salem, Our Kids." Through it, the support of the child begins at school and now, according to leaders, ends with community organizations.

"The more cohesive and organized we are in the way of supporting kids, that's when you see steady progress happening in a district," Superintendent Margarita Ruiz said. "It's important that our organizations in the city are calibrated with us on what's important for kids and how we best serve children."

The campaign relies heavily on City Connects, a support structure instituted in Salem Public Schools this year to track student needs outside of school. Through it, councilors were hired in each school to keep tabs on each child walking into a school — specifically what they need and lack outside of school.

That program was launched as part of a deal between the city and North Shore Medical Center that allowed the hospital's expansion to roll forward. It was announced on New Year's Day by Mayor Kim Driscoll in her inaugural comments.

"City Connects is in place," Driscoll said. "This is the first year we've got individualized student success plans."

But to an extent, City Connects only highlights needs — clothes, extra help in math, things like that. While the system can help connect a student to programs addressing those needs, that wasn't its primary mission, according to Ruiz.

"We looked at all our great resources in the community — the YMCA, Leap for Education," Ruiz said. "There's a ton of organizations here that want to support our kids, but we didn't have a way."

So if City Connects is a third of a pie, "Our Salem, Our Kids" fills in the other two pieces: a website — OurSalem.org — listing services and acting as a depository for parents and teachers to use, and training for the organizations putting themselves on the depository to ensure they are as prepared for their work as possible.

"The website isn't only geared toward parents, but also geared toward community organizations as well," Ruiz said. "Let's say you start a Salem club and are interested in getting volunteers and kids to help you. You'd register your organization on the website, and that'd help you promote that."

The training, meanwhile, focuses on "developing effective adult-youth relationships in the city with community organizations," Ruiz said. "In order to support our kids not only in school but outside, we're introducing training with those organizations on how to best develop and support our youth."

Ten organizations ran through training programs in October. Among them was YMCA of the North Shore, a partner going back to the "By All Means" Harvard consortium in early 2016 that led to the development of these efforts.

"After school, I think, is really critical. Most of the families in Salem are working families and need care for their kids," said executive director Charity Lezama. "We're all having a dialog around the importance of it and making sure there's a high-level focus on quality and access."

Training in the organization started with leaders and, through them, is passed on to employees. The work is all paid for by a grant through United Way, and U-Mass Lowell is also providing stipends to help power the training, according to Ruiz. The website, meanwhile, is powered by a staff member paid for by the city.

Lezama said the confluence of efforts is "a great approach to serving kids from a community perspective."

"The title, 'Our Salem, Our Kids...' It's a Y kid, a Boys and Girls Club kid, a LEAP kid; it's a Salem kid," Lezama said. "It's all of us coming to the table, taking our organizational hats off and thinking about what's best for the kid. This is new, and it's going to take everyone time to get used to it, but the general sense I get in talking to my colleagues in the youth development area in Salem is excitement.