U.S. Secretary of Education and Second Gentleman Praise How United Way Community Schools Support Local Children Academically and Mentally

With students back in their classrooms this school year, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff visited United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV) on Thursday for a roundtable discussion with Allentown leaders to highlight how United Way Community Schools provide wraparound support to local children and their families.

“United Way Community Schools remove barriers to education for more than 19,000 students in 32 high-need schools in our region,” said David Lewis, President, UWGLV during his opening remarks. Community Schools focus on helping students recover academically by ensuring they get the mental health and social emotional wellness supports they need.

Community Schools are meeting basic needs like food, housing, clothing and health care so that kids are ready to learn when they walk into the classroom. “And they work. Community Schools report improved academic performance in literacy and math, better attendance, fewer behavior incidents and more family engagement,” Lewis added.

Community Schools work because a variety of partners – corporate, nonprofit, school districts, families, community members, government – work toward the common goal of student success. But the work continues. One of Emhoff’s priorities is mental health and organizations at the roundtable expressed the need for more parent liaisons, community school coordinators and behavioral health staff members to support their students, families and communities.

“We’re looking at a whole-child approach to learning and one organization alone isn’t going to be able to meet all of those needs,” remarked Jill Pereira, Vice President, Education and Impact, UWGLV. “The collective impact of our Community School model has been proven to work for us throughout the pandemic to administer healthcare, technology and resources and information for basic needs, food and mental health to those impacted the most,” Pereira added.

Leaders at the roundtable shared how their organization plays a role in the collective impact on the community. “St. Luke’s University Health Network is proud to be the lead partner with the United Way Community School partnership at Raub Middle School. This partnership has allowed Raub to become the hub of the community for health and wellness, a safe place for students, parents, partners and staff to work collaboratively and address socioeconomic deficits, food insecurity, housing issues, mental and physical health needs, academic and non-academic aspects of the school life,” said Olga Jaeger, Community School Coordinator at Raub Middle School in the Allentown School District.

Secretary Cardona launched the Road to Success Back to School Tour alongside First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff this week. As part of the Road to Success Bus Tour, Administration leaders will highlight academic and mental health programs and efforts to recruit and support educators funded by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which provided historic resources to K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to reopen schools and help students of all ages recover.

Cardona and Emhoff stated they will bring the feedback from the roundtable discussion to Washington to inform policy.

United Way Community Schools are a collaboration of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Lehigh University, Moravian University, Northampton Community College, St. Luke’s University Health Network, and Communities In Schools of Eastern PA.

Read more: David Lewis represents UWGLV at the White House for the Communities in Action: Building a Better Pennsylvania event