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Union City Elementary, a United Way community school, anniversary

Thursday Jul 7th, 2022

When I was first settling into my office about a year ago today, I decorated the windows that face the hallway with plants I had made from construction paper along with the message, “Look at You Grow.” After I set it up, I didn’t think much about it, until school began. A certain 3rd grade student would walk past it almost every day and read it out loud to himself. Every few weeks, he would stop and tell me that he really liked that saying and my paper plants.

When I joined the Union City Elementary team, I wasn’t starting from scratch. The nurse already had a clothing closet (built years ago by a local church); the principal informally supported a handful of families by sending food home on the weekends (supported by local individuals through random donations) and our teachers cared deeply about not only their students’ education but their well-being, too. So, what changes when a school adopts the Community School Model? What sets us apart now is having the capacity to make connections; dedicate time to planning and collaboration; and to execute partnerships in the school.  

At the beginning of the year, I will admit to feeling a little overwhelmed; sometimes it feels like you’re just one person tasked with many jobs. But time and time again, when asked, our community stepped up. Through word of our United Way Winter Supply Drive, we were able to stock our clothing closet with new boots and snow pants of all sizes, instead of hoping we had hand-me-downs that would fit any student who was going without.

Because of a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank’s Backpack Program, we were able to send home weekend food bags with 82 students. At times, packed by alumni, staff members, and students who would ask to give up their recess time to help others.
And, when there were times this year a teacher was concerned about a family or student, I could do the outreach and follow up to share our resources, while working with our guidance team to keep everyone in the loop, so teachers could focus on teaching and students could focus on learning. The needs aren’t new, but with additional staff and support that comes from the Community School model, we are able to build out: to keep going and keep growing.  

So, what’s next? Now that we’re through our fist year, we’re looking to implement more strategies from the Action Plan written by our Community School Leadership Team. We want to continue to grow. In terms of the services offered at the school, like a mobile vision clinic to provide glasses for students who need them. In terms of volunteer capacity, with volunteer clinics and incentives to connect with our local organizations and share how they can help. And in terms of family engagement events, to welcome parents and families back into our school for some fun.  

I didn’t know it then but grow really was the word of the year. On the last day of school, that 3rd grader stopped in my doorway and shared that he still really liked those decorations and was hoping I’d leave them up next year. And I think I will – maybe he can help me cut out paper flowers to add to the plants, as we start to bloom. 

Bailey Pituch
Community School Director
Union City Elementary School