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RPS Initiative Brings School Resources Into the Community

Cahleigh Gayles, 7, is one of the students that's benefited from the Community Hubs program during the pandemic. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM)

Community liaisons at Richmond Public Schools are tasked with doing outreach to families, serving as a bridge between them and their schools. But traditionally, liaisons have worked out of the school buildings. 

Under the Community Hubs program, which began in September, liaisons are meeting families in their communities instead. They’re trying to help students showing early signs of chronic absenteeism. 

“The goal is to bring the school into the community,” said Erin Brown, the director of family and community engagement at RPS.

“A lot of our families need some basic support, like food or assistance with paying bills, and we have to bring in resources that are going to help them with those, because we know kids can't learn if their basic needs aren't met,” Brown said.

She says a large aspect of the Hubs initiative is to reframe how the district thinks about attendance. Rather than focusing on compliance, she says the program encourages liaisons to dig deeper into the systemic cause of the attendance issues.

“Most kids want to come to school, especially if you think about younger kids. If you're in first and second grade, you love school. You're not coming to school because there's an issue happening. There's a challenge, and we want to try to get to the root of that,” she said.

Right now, the program is limited to socially distanced porch visits due to the pandemic, but Brown said the district is working on renting out community spaces to hold group gatherings, tutor sessions and workshops for parents.

One student that has benefitted from the program is Cahleigh Gayles, a second grader at Carver Elementary School. His grandmother, Carla Hargrove, says the district has provided their family not just with food, but also with books, a new backpack and a Chromebook computer for virtual learning. 

Hargrove says Cahleigh has struggled with remote learning during the pandemic. “He don’t like it at all, I guess because he’s got to sit still. He says he don’t have no friends no more,” she said. 

Besides the helpful resources, the Hubs program has given Cahleigh something to look forward to. He says he’s grateful for his community liaison, Ms. Brown — “the one that buys me cereal and school stuff,” he said, as he practiced parkour in the playground near his Gilpin Court home.

“I love her because she comes here every day. When I see her, I always give her a hug because she’s fun, and she’s really happy,” Cahleigh said.

RPS currently has 23 community liaisons working through the Community Hubs program, with 10 of them serving the South Side region, seven in the East End, and six working with Northside and West End residents.