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Gainesville schools may expand types of services offered to students
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Ninth Grade Center student Anita Medepalli joins students in a discussion Friday, March 2, 2018, about a proposed model of services for students. - photo by Scott Rogers

Educators have long served in roles that require more than just teaching.

“In many cases, we do have to be parents to these kids,” Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams told a joint meeting this week of city school board and council members.

But additional support and services to assist kids outside the classroom, so that they may perform and behave better inside the school halls, has been a prolonged challenge.

Marietta High School, however, has proven a fruitful resource for local school officials determined to provide more services for students.

“While we are using their work as a ‘jumping off point,’ we are seeking to develop our own personalized programs,” Sarah Bell, school system chief academic officer, told The Times in an email.

These services could include everything from a food pantry and clothing closet to increased mental health services and additional work-based learning initiatives.  

“For instance, if we discover that food insecurity is a major barrier, we might seek to partner with area agencies for increased food distribution,” Bell said. “Or if substance abuse issues are a primary concern, we would seek to provide greater access to prevention programs.”

Bell said the school system has applied for grants to help fund these services and hopes to begin implementing new programs in Gainesville High by next January.

But Bell said she hopes it won’t be limited to the high school.

And focus groups are being conducted with students to help identify the most pressing service needs and “hear from them firsthand about the barriers that they are facing,” she added.

Williams said this endeavor coincides with plans to provide more support for social workers in schools as hundreds of students’ families are considered homeless — some residing in a hotel or car, others in a shelter or with family and friends.

“As with so many challenges we face, however, sometimes it is the adults in the family who need additional support,” Bell said. “It can be a difficult landscape to navigate, particularly for families who may be facing a host of other issues, as well.”

School board chairman John Filson said he thinks the addition of these types of services will help contribute to a student’s success in the classroom and in life.

“I’m really excited to see this play out,” he added.

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