Classes started this week for many Rochester Public School students. And, like many parents, Julie Ruzek was busy trying to make sure her kids were prepared.

All 18,000 of them.

Ruzek is the district's coordinator of family and community engagement. Her job is to "align school and community resources for student success." To accomplish that goal, Ruzek has championed the community schools model in four Rochester schools: Gage Elementary, Riverside Elementary, Rochester Alternative Learning Center and John Marshall High School.

As a Community School, each site went through its own intensive needs assessment, and individual school plans were created. Those plans go well beyond making sure everyone has pencils and paper. Sites offer food, hygiene items, clothing, small group discussions, career coaching, walking school buses and access to technology. Some sites also have family dental care, a health clinic and laundry facilities. Each school is assigned a site facilitator, and if a student asks for something, they try to meet it.

"We're doing school a little bit differently, Ruzek said. "We are attempting to look at the whole student, rather than just the academic. A link to addressing all of a student's needs."

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Fulfilling those needs can be a challenge, especially during a pandemic. That's where you, the community, can step in.

"We always need to stock shelves with food, hygiene items, age-appropriate clothing (please, no men's suits from the '80s) and school supplies," Ruzek said. Monetary contributions can be directed to the United Way and earmarked for "Community Schools."

"It's the hardest work I've ever done. It's also the most rewarding," Ruzek said. "All schools should be community schools. They should be implemented across the state, the country."

As we make sure our own children and grandchildren start the school year on the right foot, it doesn't take much to make sure others also get that positive push.

Top 10 items needed now:

  1. Laundry detergent/dryer sheets.
  2. Deodorant.
  3. Shampoo, conditioner (for all types of hair).
  4. Toothpaste/toothbrush.
  5. Coloring items (colored pencils, markers, crayons).
  6. Folders.
  7. Scissors/glue.
  8. Pants (sweatpants/leggings of all sizes, child to adult).
  9. Socks (new, all sizes).
  10. Healthy snacks (no nuts, please).

Please call ahead to make an appointment. That will ensure your donation ends up in the right hands. 507-328-4375.