St. Louis Public Radio News
3:50 pm
Thu August 20, 2009

K-8 Schools Expand Services to Struggling Parents

St. Louis – This year, 13 St. Louis public schools will become "full service schools," which are one-stop centers where families can get help with housing, employment, and even health care.

School officials say helping families, especially in the current economy, helps students.

The classrooms at Lyon @ Blow School on the city's south side will be full this year.

Lyon Elementary closed last year and merged with Blow Middle. Now more than 360 students from kindergarten through eighth grade will come here. But the school is opening its doors to more than just students.

Principal Ingrid Iskali says the economic downturn has affected the surrounding Carondelet neighborhood.

"We had many parents losing their jobs, and they were walking in just asking to use the computers," Iskali said.

As one of the district's new full service schools, Lyon @ Blow opened a career center. A full-time employee from the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, or SLATE, works out of the center.

Corona Williams, 18, lives across the street and says she went to school here. Williams, the mother of a little girl, worked on her resume and filled out applications.

"What I'm hoping to get is a position through Kelley Service or a position through Barnes, Barnes custodian or something like that," Williams said.

The St. Louis Public Schools plans to offer more than career services at the 13 schools it has designated as full service. John Windom, executive director of the district's Division of Community Education, leads the full service school effort. He says there will be mental health, dental and health care services on site, or linked directly with the schools. Windom says bringing services to schools will allow students and their families to get the help they need and that will allow kids to concentrate on their studies.

"Too many of these kids deserve a standing ovation for getting to the school house door," Windom said. "If they do, then we have a special responsibility to give them support and buoyancy they need to be more effective in their educational pursuits."

Windom says forging partnerships with community organizations keeps the costs minimal for the district. And he says many community organizations want to extend their reach.

That's the case for St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, the agency that has an employee working at Lyon @ Blow. SLATE's Jim Sahaida says the agency also plans to put a full-time person at Walbridge Elementary on the city's north side. That way, he says, residents won't always have to downtown to get help.

"We know that some people who are at the edges of the city, south city, north city, might have difficulty getting down here," Sahaida said. "They don't even have the money for bus fare."

Back at Lyon @ Blow, Principal Iskali says they're seeing about five or six people at the career center each day. Ultimately, she says, that's good for the students.

"By having parents being helped in the school, they create attachments or more connections with the school and that helps also with the life of the child here in the school," she said.

The school plans to host a job fair August 29 with SLATE, the YMCA, and area businesses.