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The Village program signals to students, staff that ‘we all believe in you’
Community members recruited to be part of “The Village” recently greeted students as they arrived for the first day of school in Duquesne. (Submitted photo courtesy Allegheny Intermediate Unit)
Superintendents from the Clairton City, Duquesne City and McKeesport Area School Districts are spearheading efforts for greater communal support.
Through a newly formed program titled “The Village,” local school leaders are encouraging community members to help educate and mentor local children.
McKeesport Area Superintendent Tia Wanzo said she conceived of the idea in July. At the time, Wanzo was thinking about the African proverb, that it “takes a village to raise a child,” she said.
Wanzo reached out to Clairton City Superintendent Tamara Allen-Thomas and Duquesne City Superintendent Sue Mariani about gathering a group of villagers — business owners, clergy, school board members and retirees — to dedicate their time and wisdom to today’s youth.
The school leaders agreed and committed to finding individuals who would attend the first day of school at each of the three districts.
Conveniently, each of the districts’ high schools had a different start date. And on each of those three days, Wanzo, Allen-Thomas and Mariani, along with nearly 80 “villagers,” stood outside the respective buildings, clapped, high-fived and congratulated students upon beginning a new year.
Community members cheer on students as they arrive for school in Duquesne. (Submitted photos courtesy Allegheny Intermediate Unit)
The value was palpable, Allen-Thomas said: “It set up the stage that we all believe in you. It gives that sense of hope. It gives us a sense of community.”
As school leaders, it’s important to realize “we really can't do it alone,” Wanzo said. “We need the support of the community and they need us.”
So often district constituents ask for greater transparency; this program is an opportunity for community members to learn more about their school, and neighboring institutions, Wanzo said.
While plans include traveling to each other’s buildings once a month to demonstrate similar support, the greater goal is to actively train villagers and create a resource guide for use between districts, she said: “A lot of our needs are exactly the same, so what's needed at Duquesne is often what’s needed at McKeesport and Clairton.”
Differences definitely exist, but “it’s one big family,” Allen-Thomas said.
The school leaders are recruiting new villagers. Requirements to enter each other’s buildings include possessing valid clearances, Wanzo said.
Besides being invested in the success of the community’s young people, persons interested in volunteering for the program also need to have the desire to learn from those students, Allen-Thomas noted.
“You have to have the mindset, the love for the community and the people, be willing to be open to learn and realize what you think you know, you may not really know,” she said. “A lot of times people reflect back to when they were in school, or what it used to be like.”
The reality today, however, is that both students and staff are experiencing “so much mental fatigue,” Allen-Thomas said. A YouthTruth study of 222,837 students at 845 schools across 20 states indicated “depression, stress and anxiety is the most prevalent obstacle to learning for secondary students at every grade level, six through twelve,” according to Education Week.
Rand Corporation’s 2023 State of The American Teacher Survey noted educators “report worse well-being than the general population of working adults.”
Programs like The Village are a clear signal to students and staff that the community cares, Allen-Thomas said.
“It takes a village to be able to really see to fruition, our vision, that every child can be successful, and will be successful,” she added. “But it takes a village to make that happen.”
Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published September 17, 2023.