An update from Rachel Pierce, interim community school director
East Middle School is a United Way community school supported by Hamot Health Foundation and UPMC Western Behavioral Health.
- Community schools address barriers to learning that prevent students from being successful.
- A community school becomes a hub for the neighborhood where it is located.
- The model is not unique to Erie, but United Way has been seen as a pacesetter nationwide, having launched 10 schools in just three years, serving more than 6,000 students and their families.
A key component at East is the community room, which serves as a resource hub and place of connection for East students and their families. It is a safe space for students to enjoy programming, get connected with basic needs, and support. But when the pandemic hit, this vital physical space was unavailable to the East community. However, that’s when Rachel Pierce, interim community school director, and the administration team made the decision to reinvent what a community room could look like virtually.
Virtual Community Room
By using the platform Schoology, which was already implemented schoolwide for virtual learning, Rachel went online to create a similar environment to what students were used to while in the physical building. While unanticipated, a positive outcome of creating a virtual community room has been the opportunity to provide an increased amount of support and also a social platform to positively interact with peers. Middle schoolers are used to and often times more comfortable communicating in an online setting.
In addition to the increased needs and shifts related to student engagement, there has been a shift in the consideration for teacher self-care and the possibility for increased teacher burnout. Considering the many changes teachers are being asked to make this year, the East leadership team wanted to continue the path to a universally trauma-informed school and create a self-care space for teachers. A dedicated teacher self-care space was made possible by a United Way neighborhood resource minigrant. The space has given teachers a meaningful way to engage in mindful activities. Staff who are on the front lines working with students go into their days feeling supported and more equipped to serve students.
Below is an infographic showing the most recent report data that demonstrates the impact of the community schools model being in place at East Middle School.