JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For many children in Jacksonville, school closures are more than just a shift in the way they learn and interact with their teachers.
Schools are critical for at-risk youth who may be battling issues that range from hunger to homelessness, and the coronavirus pandemic has heightened those challenges. That’s why Communities In Schools of Jacksonville is going above and beyond to make sure the needs of students and their families are met during this time.
“Many of the students that we work with in the schools come to the schools with issues of hunger, had violence in the community. We’re already seeing the violence increase as of lately, homelessness, now they’re going to be doubled or tripled up. And so when this pandemic hit, it threw everything off," said Leon Baxton, CEO of Communities In Schools of Jacksonville.
Since K-12 students in Florida will continue distance learning until the end of the school year, at-risk students could be faced with a different reality due to the adversity that their “homes” may bring, Baxton said.
“When I was 10, I lost my mother to a heroin overdose in Harlem. My grandmother died at 12, breaking up a fight on Thanksgiving. Two years later, an uncle died being shot in Harlem. Two years later, another uncle, and then my father drunk himself to death. And those were challenges for me. But there was a caring adult at an after school program at that point in Howard that really helped me," Baxton said.
Communities in Schools of Jacksonville has been working around the clock to continue to provide critical assistance to students in need. The organization is working with several other groups, including the Kids Hope Alliance and United Way, to come up with creative ways to continue to support students in nontraditional ways -- from virtual work development courses and counseling to providing meals and everything in between.
While these new times are challenging, the Communities in Schools of Jacksonville reminds students and their families that it is still there for them-- just in a different form.
“To our students, I want to say we miss you. We love you. Continue to get online. Do your homework. Finish your courses. Visit our website. Our website, we shared this with our parents, have virtual tours, college tours, yoga class, any of those things that can help you stay focused," Baxton said.
With Duval County Public Schools postponing graduation ceremonies until July, Communities In Schools of Jacksonville is asking for volunteers to make video messages to send to graduating seniors.
The process is simple: You have to be at least 18 years old and record a video congratulating this year’s graduating class. You’ll then upload it to YouTube and Communities In Schools of Jacksonville will get these messages to the students.