Schools have always been a place of education as students learn how to read, count, solve problems, and build social skills.
More than ever, though, schools are extending beyond that primary mission and helping families with other needs such as mental health, hunger and getting students to school on a regular basis.
And those needs are growing.
The chronic absenteeism rate in New York State increased from 20.6% in 2018-19 to 27.0% in 2020-21, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And 96.3 percent of school districts in the U.S. recently reported that meal debt had increased due to the expiring waiver that allowed schools to offer free meals to all students.
In recognition of these new challenges, which affect student success, the East Greenbush Central School District has partnered with START Children’s Center and Rensselaer County Department of Social Services to place a Family Intervention Specialist at Howard L. Goff Middle School.
Mekkel Styno started at Goff in late January and is working closely with school counselors and social workers to support families in the following areas:
- Chronic Absenteeism
- Food instability
- Housing instability
- Crisis support
Families are referred to Ms. Styno by school counselors and social workers. Then she completes a needs assessment to see where the issues are and how she can help, whether that is connecting a family with a service provider in the community or going to their home to help get the child going in the morning and ready for school.
“I’m here to try and help students who aren’t being successful, be successful,” she said.
Ms. Styno will be at Goff on Mondays and Fridays and is also available on Wednesdays from the START Children’s Center. (She will be at Rensselaer City School District on Tuesdays and Thursdays as part of the agreement.)
“As a community agency, we’re coming in to work with some of those families to help take down some of those barriers that families encounter with getting kids to school,” said START Children’s Center Executive Director Kevin Maloney. “We’re familiar with the resources and we’re able to visit homes where they’re at to figure out some of those issues.”
This is the first time the START Children’s Center has placed a prevention program in a school. It has been well-received by Interim Principal James McHugh who is seeing a variety of issues that need to be addressed.
“This position plays an integral role in removing barriers that impact some of our students and families which we serve,” Mr. McHugh said. “Ms. Styno is that bridge between our school and county resources for some of our families.”