HASTINGS, Minn. — The United Way of Hastings and Hastings Public Schools announced a partnership with the St. Paul-based organization Communities in Schools Twin Cities last week in an effort to further identify issues that local students face and extend resources to them.

CISTIC works with school districts, local organizations and businesses to help struggling students and families gain access to services that are difficult to obtain, whether academic or not.

Starting in the spring semester, CISTC, working with Hastings High School officials, will hire and place a site coordinator in the school.

The site coordinator will be responsible for conducting an annual student need assessment and act as a conduit of resources for students, CISTC CEO Amanda Sappa said.

“New students come in every year, which means that the needs of students can change. The site coordinator will work with students, parents and staff to find out what is really going on,” Sappa said.

From there, Sappa added, the site coordinator will create a school support plan that states what the needs of students are and how they will be addressed. The plan will act as a roadmap for the year.

The plan will lay out three tiers of support. One level focuses on school-wide services that benefit the entire student body. This could be related to overall attendance, behavior, coursework or the school climate, Sappa said. The second level deals with targeted programs, such as tutoring, for students who may be struggling and seeking help. The third level is individual support, which involves students with unique cases that might require more assistance.

Currently, CISTC and the school district are in the hiring process. Sappa said that she and Hastings High School Principal Mike Johnson will work together to fill the position.

“We want to make sure that we are getting the right person. Once we find them, they will get trained on our model and then start work as soon as possible,” Sappa said.

From there, the plan must be signed off by the principal before being put into action.

Throughout the year, the site coordinators job will be to continue to monitor the needs of students and make adjustments to the plan as necessary.

“What makes Communities in Schools different is that we are there full-time. The site coordinator will be accessible to students at all times,” Sappa said, adding that the site coordinator will become a part of the school’s existing student support staff, who have heavy work loads already. “They will be there not just to support the students, but other staff as well.”

A vision turns to partnership

The idea for a partnership started while UWH was in the process of vision planning. The nonprofit hired a consultant to assess the community and interview residents in order to find out what the needs of the community were, executive director Mari Mellick said. The results of the assessment indicated to UWH that they should be focused on youth.

“Well we looked at that and realized that we’re already doing a lot of that — Helping Kids Succeed, for example,” Mellick said.

Helping Kids Succeed is an initiative of UWH that focuses on helping kids develop healthy “webs of support.” The webs of support model emphasized the importance of kids having anchors, or supportive adults, in order to be successful. As part of the initiative, groups of community leaders and members meet regularly as community partners to discuss what is going on in the community and how they can help kids build webs of support. The initiative also hosts community presentations and workshops, as well as involves trained high school students, called the YES Team, who also act as teachers of the webs of support model.

Thinking beyond what they have already built, Mellick said, the organization decided that it wanted to find a way to offer wraparound services to Hastings children.

“We have a great community, and we have great partners and other nonprofits in the community, but how can we extend that?” Mellick said. “We started looking into what’s called a community school environment where there are wraparound services.”

An example of a community school environment, Mellick added, would be if a school finds that some kids are missing a lot of school because of bad teeth, they might bring a dentist or dental hygienist into the school for a couple days.

One area of crisis that has been identified in the district so far is mental health, not just of students but of families as well. It has been a frequent topic of HKS meetings and presentations, according to Mellick.

Jane Neumiller-Bustad with UWH and HKS noted that while Hastings has a great number of resources, there are also some gaps that can lead people to not knowing where to turn. For instance, Neumiller-Bustad said, a child going through a mental health crisis that needs care, might not find an available bed when needed.

Instead of leaving families to find all of the resources their children need, a community school framework allows for the partnering of families, schools and organizations to help kids find tools for success.

“Helping Kids Succeed is all about that wraparound web and that’s exactly what a community school framework is like” Mellick said.

UWH started looking into organizations that it could partner with to help create the type of framework it was looking for. UWH learned about CISTC through other United Ways, as well as from the consultants hired to do the assessment.

“We want them to build off of what we already have in place, but yet provide that structure of a representative at a building in the Hastings School District that would really oversee all the services, either within the school or outside of the school,” Mellick said.