By Alisha Torres
Tucked away in the farthest northern corner of New York, bordered by Canada and a nearby Native American Reservation, you will find the village of Massena. Massena is a town of wonders. From fighting to keep Alcoa alive and putting a priority on excellent education, Massena, and its people, has shown what is possible when you leverage a community and its resources.
If you stop in at one of the schools, you may notice the slogan “Our Kids, Our School, Our Community,” emblazoned on walls and teachers' doors, which was voted on by students, school staff, and community partners in Massena Central School District (MCSD). It is with this slogan in mind that MCSD hired their first Full Service Community School Coordinator, Kristin Colarusso Martin, in the fall of 2017. With a total of approximately 2,600 students, Martin sets out to bring the community into 3 elementary schools, a junior high, and a high school.
Martin has accomplished great success as a Coordinator with just under two years into her role. Through her prior employment, she built strong relationships with community partners while leading a drug-free coalition. Her connections, with the full support of the Massena Central School District Board of Education Superintendent Patrick Brady, resulted in a strong partnership between the school district and the surrounding community. In a meeting with a fellow faculty member, Martin states that while the program is a new ship, it has a lot of good rowers keeping the ship on course.
On a regular basis, Kristin reaches out to community partners such as law enforcement, local firefighters, not for profits, faith-based organizations, and colleges. Through this network, Martin organizes accessible resources for students and families in need of basic necessities such as clothing, shelter, or food, and also promotes their wins by alerting her network when they meet a student or family’s need. While Martin is known for her big scale effect on the students, many do not note the countless amounts of school supplies, clothes, guidance, and smiles she provides for students on any given day.
In August 2018, Massena’s Community Schools Initiative hosted their first ever “Ready 4 School” event prior to the start of the academic school year. Having identified the fact that many students start the school year without all of the supplies that they need, the Community Schools Team set out to try to level the playing field for all students.
At Ready 4 School, school supplies, gently used clothing, books, and food were donated to over 1,000 students and families. Volunteer hairdressers provided free haircuts to students, and community partners set up informational tables to connect families with needed resources. This collaboration between the school and Martin's wide network of community partners helped to support the Massena community as they face increasing rates of unemployment, poverty, and substance abuse.
According to Martin, community schools are all about bringing everyone to the table to figure out how to lift up students and their families. Furthermore, community schools provide resources and aid that are invaluable to the community, while also provided a platform for the community to give back.
Cesar Chavez provides a quote that best sums up Martin’s approach to community schools: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”