PATERSON, NJ -  Scholars can’t learn if they are hungry, it’s difficult to concentrate if they had a family issue before arriving for their first class of the morning, and the lack of fresh and laundered school clothes can bring unwelcome attention. 

These are just a few of the obstacles to learning, those that arise outside of the classroom, pointed out by Board of Education Vice President Manny Martinez on Tuesday as he and more than two dozen others from Paterson’s schools, federal and local government, and partnering organizations joined  together to officially open the John F. Kennedy Educational Complex as New Jersey’s first federally-funded Full Service Community High School.

“When a child comes to school the whole child comes to school,” Kemper McDowell, executive director of Family and Community Engagement and Full Service Community Schools Department said. That, he continued, was the meaning behind the event.

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“It takes more than a teacher and classroom to provide education.”

Saying that the designation, made possible by a $2.5 million federal grant secured by Congressman Bill Pascrell, is in line with her often used slogan “Together We Can,” Superintendent Eileen Schafer added that “the Full Service Community Schools model comes down to a very simple idea: we will help you get what you need to succeed.” 

A Full Service Community School’s services can include in-school health clinics, in-school academic assistance; afterschool and summer programs, programs to support students’ transition to elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education; internship opportunities for high school students; career pathways exploration program; chronic absenteeism mentorship; anti- bullying/violence prevention; Restorative Justice; family nights; parent workshops; adult education programs such as ESL and workforce development; and access to social services.

The support of the New Jersey Development Corporation (NJCDC) who will serve as the lead partnering agency, as well as Felician University that will provide academic support, St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation for their food pantry services, and Health N Wellness, LLC, for their provision of health care and behavioral health services, will all be critical, Shafer added, because “to have a facility that goes above and beyond in meeting student and family needs, it truly does take a village.”

Highlighting the impact that accessibility to health care services can have on a student was Denise Hajjar of Health N Wellness, LLC. who relayed a story of helping a young student at School 5, also a designated Full Service Community School, get glasses for the first time.

“The student started crying,” Hajjar said, offering that she thought something was wrong. “‘I can see now, and the world looks so different’” she recalled the student telling her.

“The work we do here help the students deal with what they are struggling with outside so that they can achieve more inside the classroom,” Bob Guarasci, Founder and CEO of NJCDC said. “We are not striving to make this a good community school, we want to make it the best.”

Our mission is to not only serve students but their communities as well.” Dr. George Abaunza, Dean of Felician University’s School of Arts and Sciences, who is responsible for coordinating the partnership between the two academic institutions, said. “Our mission is to be in solidarity with the community and to grow partnerships with them, and they need our help. We have so many resources that we're privileged to have on our campuses, and it's just a matter of sharing with the communities in meaningful ways.”

Also attending and speaking were Congressman Bill Pascrell and Mayor Andre Sayegh, both of whom shared their hope that the full suite of services to be provided at JFK will help the students develop the tools and desire to serve Paterson.”

“An education isn’t just about grades, it’s about who you are and how you try to make the community better,” Pascrell said before Sayegh paraphrased the school’s namesake when he offered his hope that students will ask themselves “not what Paterson can do for them but what they can do for Paterson.”

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