Local school districts receive $3M investment in health initiatives

Stock photo.

The Community Schools: Optimal Health Initiative, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will invest $3 million in community schools and agencies that serve youth in Onondaga and Wayne counties.  

The Optimal Health Initiative unites a consortium of nine school districts, including Clyde-Savannah, Lyons, Newark, North Rose-Wolcott, Red Creek and Sodus in Wayne County. It will provide resources to identify and address root causes that impede the development of resilience and well-being in youth, and support mentoring, afterschool programs, community-building and attachment-building programs.  

Each of these efforts will be designed to encourage collaboration between agencies that work with young people. The project calls for a hyper-local Community Schools strategy to ensure that each community and school has a voice in how the grant is implemented. 

Community Schools director Jay Roscup was one of the lead grant writers on the project and serves as project director. 

“Community Schools are about place-based and person-centered work,” he said. “The idea of Community Schools is national, but how the strategy implementation is structured and prioritized is a local decision. I’m looking forward to hearing youth and family voices come together to drive this project uniquely at each location.”  

According to Nelson Kise, superintendent of the Sodus Central School District, the lead education agency for the grant, “Collaboration is just part of our culture at Sodus. We know working together is how we will get the best outcomes for students.”  

Kise presented at regional forums on Community Schools and Sodus received a full-service Community Schools Grant. Community Schools administrator Bridgette Barr from North Rose-Wolcott CSD was another lead writer on the proposal and will help anchor the project in Wayne County, along with Jill Harper, the Sodus-based Community Schools health integration specialist for multiple school districts.  

Peaceful Schools is the lead agency for the work in Onondaga County. Syracuse University professor Ryan Heath will be involved in the project to help analyze impact and identify what is working.  

“I am honored and excited to be part of the Optimal Health Initiative, which is innovative for its combination of evidence-based interventions and holistic youth development during school and out-of-school time,” Heath said. “It emphasizes systems-level approaches, rigorous data and evaluation, and locally driven implementation. It is well-positioned to make a meaningful impact on youth in Wayne and Onondaga counties.” 

The project also will expand the opportunity for paid internships for college students to serve in local schools. One of the first steps of the project will be to create an advisory board of students, family members and community members. Optimal Health coordinators will be hired to help operate programs, build connections with young people, find barriers to wellness like access to doctors’ offices and solutions to those barriers. Agencies will share trainings to reduce costs and build sustainable program pathways.  

Email jroscup@soduscsd.org for information.