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D-427, community agencies partner on education

SYCAMORE – As tight budgets limit school resources, Sycamore School District 427 is finding new ways to make education a community effort.

Peter Goff, dean of students at Sycamore High School, has helped launch a pilot program to integrate 10 community service agencies into the routines of high school and middle school students and their parents.

Youth Experiencing Success in School provides in-school and after-school programs for students. It also has workshops for parents to help them become more involved with their student’s academic, social and future plans.

Each program is delivered in part by one of 10 community service agencies, including the Ben Gordon Center, Family Service Agency, Youth Service Bureau and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“We’re trying to reach those kids who are in between sports or plays ... or kids who have nowhere else to go,” Goff said. “We want them to find out what our community has to offer.”

The in-school program already has helped agencies such as the Youth Service Bureau, which provides mental health and counseling.

Jason Nicol, executive director of the Youth Service Bureau, said it has been great to reach students at the school, where they will not have to miss classes or worry about transportation to the agency. He said he hopes to expand to more schools, including DeKalb High School.

“Our referrals have gone up every year so we know the need is out there,” Nicol said. “It’s just kind of getting lifted off the ground here, but we hope it continues.”

While the in-school program focuses on providing services, the after-school program aims to engage students with community organizations and sharpen life skills. Events, which occur about once a week, have included a challenge day from Adventure Works, a mentoring day with Big Brothers Big Sisters and technology courses with the Ben Gordon Center.

David Miller, executive director of the Family Service Agency, said YESS is one of the most effective collaborations in which his organization has participated.

“We’re helping schools be successful, and they’re helping us,” he said. “We’re able to reach a lot more people with our mission.”

The third phase of YESS – Parent University – focuses on child development, what students are learning in school, advocacy and effective parenting skills and leadership. The program features guest speakers each month to address different topics such as bullying, managing a busy schedule and planning for life after high school.

Carla Johnson, a counselor at Kishwaukee College, spoke to parents about planning for college. She said she was interested in Parent University not only as an expert speaker, but as a parent. Her child is now a freshman in college.

“As a parent of students in the district, I was really impressed to hear about the program,” she said. “It’s a great way for students and parents to get interconnected.”

Goff said after-school programs would start again after Christmas and students could sign up on a form in the attendance office. Any parent can attend the Parent University events, which start again Jan. 22 with a presentation on how to relieve stress.

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