• Community Engagement at the ERESC


    The Essex Regional Educational Services Commission (ERESC) was designed and created by 10 member districts to provide cost-effective services. These services extend to the member districts and the surrounding communities within Essex County and beyond. As a Commission, not only do we provide programs and services, we are a receiving school district where students are sent to us for a variety of reasons. At the beginning of my tenure at the ERESC, a needs-analysis across the system was conducted with all stakeholders. Questions included:

    • Are we appropriately supporting our students and their families?
    • Is there community?
    • How can we strengthen community across the district?

    One area that was clearly deficient was the lack of strategic engagement with the different communities that we serve.  While we have been servicing Essex County and the surrounding communities and its children, parents and families, the services were not strategically targeted but were done in an ad-hoc way.

    In keeping with the ERESC Strategic Plan, Priority II: Strong Human Capital Core; Goal 3: Increase community and organizational engagement, the Department of Community and Stakeholder Engagement was formed. We acknowledged that the community connection was a necessary component needed to connect with our surrounding communities and this was a missing piece.  We set out to be intentional about how we were supporting our students in addressing their needs and how we could use this office as a liaison between the ERESC, the schools, the parents and the community at large.

    The vision of the Department of Community and Stakeholder Engagement was to foster strong and meaningful relationships with our stakeholders. The Department of Community and Stakeholder Engagement has been instrumental in connecting the ERESC to the larger community by introducing services to the students, providing resources and supports, as well as forging relationships with community organizations, universities, and municipalities. We have been focused on providing an environment of Community and Care. We have worked deliberately with our partners to gain opportunities (employment, internships and apprenticeships) for our students. We also used these partnerships to provide monthly mentoring opportunities for our students.

    The community engagement work is also evident at the schools and has extended now beyond the Department of Community and Stakeholder Engagement. At the schools, where we service some of the most at-risk students, there are weekly life skills/mentoring groups where a speaker who we have partnered with meets with the students. The overarching objectives of these meetings is to provide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies that will train our students on how to listen and communicate effectively. Students learn what it is to have and live in a community. They learn how to build positive relationships as a group and how to respect and understand each person’s uniqueness. Through group and partner discussions and activities, students understand the importance of confidentiality, listening skills, being non-judgmental, learn about self-awareness, positive decision making and conflict resolution skills.  The speaker also conducts one-on-one individual meetings with students who need additional mentoring and coaching.

    There is also in place a more targeted mentoring program serving our elementary students (primarily geared toward male students from grades 6-8). The program provides mentoring and other activities to support our students. The activities are designed to incorporate our school and our community. The program fosters positive relationships within the school. Some of the activities that extend beyond the school buildings to the community at large include:

    • Life Skills Workshops
    • Social Issues
    • Personal Responsibilities
    • Cultural Awareness
    • Grooming-Hygiene
    • Guest Speakers from all Walks of Life
    • Educational and Academic Needs and
    • Public Speaking

    Interwoven in this work is the quest to inspire our students to be tomorrow's leaders with virtuous characters, impeccable manners and appropriate conduct.

    To ensure that we are providing as many services as we are able, our school leadership provides home visits to families as needed. The school and home are natural extensions of each other, and so home visits can establish positive contact and communication with students and their families. These visits are not a replacement for parent-teacher conferences, but are a process through which educators demonstrate their support for students’ and their families’ wellbeing by visiting the home environment or an alternative location where the family feels comfortable. 

    Continuing the theme of Community and Care, students have access to a CARE Closet which provides clothing and other personal care items for any student in need. Some of our students are facing food insecurity and although we do not have a food pantry, we provide food pantry resources. With the help of the Department of Community and Stakeholder Engagement and in collaboration with the schools, we provide the families that express interest, with information for local food resources that are available in their specific communities. Students have also benefited from fresh fruit and vegetable give-away bags. There are also food drives, coat drives, feminine hygiene product drives and school supply drives.

    Working collaboratively with the Department of Community and Stakeholder Engagement, we are committed to servicing the whole child. Along with the schools, we have established stronger partnerships with community resources to help parents and families get the best quality support and services possible, in order to help our students.