Residents of East Gainesville will soon be able to get more than an education at Howard W. Bishop Middle School.
They may be able to go there for a meal, or for counseling, or even a complete physical exam.
That’s because Bishop is one step closer to becoming a community school, a designation given to U.S. schools that include health and social services in additional to traditional education. The Alachua County School Board selected it for that designation in October of 2015. Last month, the Alachua County Commission approved a $5,000 request from the board to hire a community school director to get the programs started.
Michael Gamble, Bishop’s principal, said the school is expected to begin offering community-school services during the 2016-17 school year. One of the reasons it was selected, he said, was because it is located in an impoverished area.
“A great deal of our students are zoned only 2 miles from the school,” Gamble said.
According to a form that Jennifer Anchors, executive director of the Children’s Home Society in Gainesville, submitted to the commission to request the $5,000, 49 percent of Bishop’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Anchors said that Children’s Home Society, the primary organization pushing for a community school in Gainesville, is in the process of writing grants and getting private donors for Bishop. Anchors is heading the project until a director is found.
In addition, the community school now has core partnerships, including Santa Fe College, Alachua County Public Schools, the University of Florida and the Alachua County Health Department.
“The core partners will work on planning programs for the community school,” Anchors said.
To establish what programs will be offered, the Children’s Home Society plans to organize focus groups to hear the needs of people near the middle school.
If successful, Bishop would join Evans Community School in Orlando, the only other one in Florida, in becoming a community school. Evans offers a wellness center, adult education classes and a food pantry.
Other community members, such as Scott Monnett, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County, said that community schools are an extension of the classroom. His organization offers programs such as tutoring and after-school care, that are similar to community schools.
“When I hear the word community school, I hear family involvement,” Monnett said. “I hear community involvement. I hear other agencies getting involved in providing opportunities to have a well-rounded education for the youth that participate in the school. It’s the old adage: It takes a village to raise a child.”
John Cooper, 12, Christopher Welch, 10, and Matthew Williams, 9, are an example of how community outreach, such as what Bishop would offer as a community school, can benefit everyone. Cooper, who has been part of the Boys and Girls Club for seven years, said wouldn’t have made it to the fifth grade if it weren’t for the after-school sessions.
“I would have been held back,” Cooper said.
Welch said he remembers being at the Boys and Girls Club before starting kindergarten and that his parents were volunteers. Williams said he met many of his friends there.
“They inspired me to trust my guts,” Welch said