New plan: Help families near Paterson’s Eastside High with meals, health, academic support
Montclair State University is working with school and city officials in Paterson, New Jersey to integrate academic and community support in the low-income neighborhood around Eastside High School.
The university will use a $1 million grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to be administered over two years for the One Square Mile Initiative, placing the high school at the center of an infusion of community service.
Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell said the program is a different approach to improving school performance than has often been taken in the past.
“We’re like, ‘Well, you know, the reading results aren’t what we were hoping for. So let’s do a reading program,'” Koppell said. “But we know the youth we’re trying to help also have health, nutrition and safety issues, and their parents don’t have jobs that allow them to be at home.”
The Eastside initiative will offer free meals, mental and physical health services and academic support, according to a school system announcement.
“And we’re actually trying to bring everything together and show that multidimensional problems can only be addressed with multidimensional solutions,” said Koppel.
In an announcement about the initiative, Schools Superintendent Eileen F. Shafer said Eastside would become the 11th “complete community school where services are provided to families” in the district. Koppell developed the specific model for One Square Mile in his previous role as dean of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University, where he worked with the community of Maryvale in the Phoenix area.
“When students thrive, the whole community thrives,” Shafer said in the announcement. “This not only makes these services conveniently available to students and families, but also contributes to the academic success of our students.”
Several local organizations in Paterson are involved, including Tier 1 Recovery, which provides drug counseling and other mental health services.
Montclair State University is just 4 miles from Eastside High School, made famous in the 1980’s by then-Principal Joe Clark’s crackdown on violence and drugs, as depicted in the film “Lean on Me.” But in many ways it’s a world away. The campus is situated on a hill with stately buildings in an affluent suburb. Paterson is a predominantly black and brown city where the annual per capita income is $21,064 and a quarter of the population lives in poverty according to the latest US census.
The university has already worked in Paterson after Montclair graduate and Paterson native Chuck Muth donated $5 million. The donation will fund a museum and learning center at Hinchliffe Stadium, which was once home to a Negro League baseball team.
Koppell said this is part of an increasing focus on building relationships between the university and the city.
“They should be seen as a reflection of a university saying, ‘We can’t be successful unless we work together in a town like Paterson, which is just a stone’s throw from our campus,'” he said.