Food, dental, health, trade programs thrive at GVCSD

BELMONT — In a community that is culturally isolated and economically disadvantaged, Genesee Valley Central School District (GVCSD) embraces its vision to become a Full-Service Community School not only for the students it is designed to serve but for the whole community.

Since 2012, under the leadership of Dr. Brian Schmitt, the District began to assertively seek funding to support service and recreational gaps that are blamed as the crux of underachievement, ill-health and community disconnectedness.

This high-need, rural district in the Southwestern Tier of New York State set out to favorably differentiate itself as a leader of academic services that would foster students holistically and build leaders, innovators, and active participators of the community. The outcome would revitalize a community that is rich in environmental resources but lacking in creative opportunity and commitment.

What began with reinventing idle lunchtime has blossomed into a model school offering a suite of services designed to build physical and mental wellness as well as to ensure the basic needs of children and their families that fosters greater academic achievement, inspiration, and motivation. From an original $1,500 grant that funded lunchtime exercise and interactive food preparation tools to half a million dollars in annual funding of rigorous and enriching programming, GVCSD is on the radar of Cornell University’s CIPA Consulting Group which studies the effectiveness of the District’s programming.

Funded under the federal Community Eligibility Program (CEP) and now supplemented by the District’s local budget, all 566 of the District’s students are offered free breakfast, lunch or snack regardless of income. And for those students whose families struggle to meet the most basic needs, the District offers additional food through its weekend Backpack program, an anonymous feeding initiative that was originally funded by the East Hill Foundation.

The District partners regularly with the Allegany County Cooperative Extension to build programming that enables its Food Services Department to offer a robust menu nourished with produce from local and regional farmers. A recent award from the Department of Agriculture and Markets affords the District a part-time coordinator to lead a re-branding effort in its cafeterias as well as to realign its vendors to increase acquisition of local, healthier produce. Additionally, the District hosts a community garden. The project is overseen by one of its teachers and supported by a school-based club of students learning science through gardening, but it remains open to the community who can share in its harvest.

In 2017, GVCSD received a grant award from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to address the District’s lack of dental services. There were no practicing dentists located within the District at that time. Through a partnership with the Regional Primary Care Network, now known as Mosaic, the District built an onsite dental program that enables student to receive dental care during school hours. Additional funds from ARC served as seed money to begin a tele-medical and tele-mental program in partnership with Mobile Telemed of Buffalo. The tele-medicine unit, staffed with a trained school nurse, incorporates Bluetooth technology and medical instruments to transmit student vital statistics and symptoms to a remote-based doctor.

A normal school day is not lost for students with basic symptoms requiring primary care and enables immediate treatment. GVCSD is the first school in New York State to be Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) certified through NYS Department of Health. The Tele-mental health program provides students and families a lifeline to mental health care. Led by child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Aimee DiPasqua, an initial consultation occurs privately in the school where the student, parent, and doctor can collaborate to form a treatment plan. Comprehensive services may include psychiatry, medication management, and therapy. The District has authored other grants that are pending that would allow the District to expand critically needed onsite mental health services. Like dental, there are no providers that are housed within the District. Recent student risk assessments demonstrate alarming rates of self-reported suicide ideation and community and school disconnect.

GVCSD received a grant through the NYS Education Department to create more rigorous STEM curriculum supported by technology. Now, in partnership with research-based JASON Learning, students learn from STEM career role models through live broadcasts. Gen Valley has afforded multiple student-teacher pairs to participate in JASON field experiences to locations including the Catalina Islands and Peru.

Additional pending grant proposals support the development of a community-based Building Trades learning program, a partnership with Alfred State College, Wellsville School District and the Allegany County Land Bank. Students interested in pursuing trade careers will benefit from college level course work that can be applied to a two-year degree as well as authentic work-experience renovating homes that will be returned to the market to support low-income housing needs.

All students at GVCSD benefit from an Extended School Day program that was designed to provide a safe, structured extended learning environment, especially for at-risk students or students inclined to deviant behaviors. Students choose from a suite of activities including Lego clubs, yoga, running groups, intramurals, Big Brother/Big Sister, academic support, or after school care.

“The teachers and administrators at Gen Valley have long recognized the needs of our students and community beyond the academic instruction we were designed to provide,” said Superintendent Dr. Brian Schmitt. “We are thoughtful and vigilant about putting programming in place that supports our students and families to help them succeed. Genesee Valley Central School District is not done.

“There are other needs that are recognized as obstacles to our vision and the achievement potential of our students,” added Schmitt. “We have the capacity as a Full-Service Community School to facilitate those needs. We look forward to creatively meeting those challenges.”