Sun Prairie Community Schools didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of serving students and adults in the community.

Even as the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic made already vulnerable families more unstable community schools brought out resources to help.

Students were given clothing and 240 students/families received rental and utility assistance, transportation help, food and household supplies and furniture, said Sun Prairie Community Schools Director Jamie Racine, who gave an update to city officials at the Aug. 3 Committee of the Whole meeting.

Food pantries were also set up in all five of the Community School sites with 188 families getting help during the 2020-2021 school year.

Community schools also partnered with the City of Sun Prairie to host COVID-19 vaccination clinics with more than 85 people getting shots.

There are five community school sites in the city—Westside Elementary, CH Bird Elementary, Northside Elementary, Patrick Marsh Middle School and Prairie Phoenix Academy. Westside and Prairie Phoenix were established in 2013 and the newest, Northside, started in 2020.

Racine said each school gauges what is needed for a customizable approach.

Community schools’ goal is to improve student’s academic achievement, reduce chronic absenteeism, and connect families with schools and the community. Racine shared numbers of those served and other data with city alders.

Out-of-school time programming helped 148 students across all five community school sites.

Westside Community School coordinator Stacy Darga said students who took part in the Kids Achieve Together (KAT) program had a 51% higher attendance rate than those not enrolled in the program. Darga said the Westside Community School was very active during the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic supporting students and families.

“We did not let the pandemic stop us,” Darga said.

Committee of the Whole members asked for more student data. Racine said she would come back with more data when things returned to a more “normal” year.

Adults also found ways to boost their skills and get help through literacy, financial fitness and grief sharing virtual classes. Darga expects virtual programming to continue even in the post-pandemic world.

There was also a focus on fun to lift spirits during the pandemic with virtual dance parties, summer camps, a community garden, and even a Halloween trunk or treat event. Northside Coordinator Tenisha Winn said there was a good community response to the activities.

“If we can do this in the midst of a pandemic, imagine was we can do during a normal year,” Winn said.

Community assessments help determine the needs of each community school site’s students, families and neighborhoods. Racine said assessments are being updated at Patrick Marsh Middle School and Prairie Phoenix Academy.

Sun Prairie Community Schools boosted its impact by partnering with area businesses and organizations and getting help from volunteers. Racine said there were 36 partners and 1,026 volunteers during the past year.

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