Agency helping Syracuse students recover from Covid receives $85,000 in donations

Shantavia Newton was 13 when her mother died unexpectedly. After taking a month off school to grieve, she returned, struggling with lower grades, stress and depression.

She joined Hillside, an organization that ministers to at-risk students in the Syracuse City school district, and was paired with a juvenile advocate whom she describes as “the best person who has ever walked into her life.”

“Hillside definitely helped me stay afloat, get back on board and not get lost,” Newton said.

She graduated from Corcoran High School in 2013 and received her associate degree from Onondaga Community College in Human Services and Social Work.

Now she works as a juvenile attorney at Hillside. Newton is responsible for keeping 30 seniors on their way to graduation and helping the students get back to normal quickly after three years in which Covid wreaked havoc on their lives.

Shantavia Newton is a juvenile attorney at Hillside (Melissa Newcomb|[email protected])

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen student needs increase,” said Karinda Shanes, regional executive director of Hillside Work Scholarship Connection. “You’re scared now. Some students worry that if they don’t have the technology to keep up with the work that needs to be done, they won’t be like other students at work.”

Catching up after the pandemic is a challenge for education administrators and students. A state Comptroller report says that some students’ performance has dropped so much that the learning loss is equivalent to almost a whole school year. Syracuse’s test scores are well below the national average.

Hillside has 1,200 Syracuse students in its Work Scholarship Connection, which guides students to graduation by offering academic instruction, mentorship, part-time employment opportunities, and recreational activities.

Hillside’s efforts were recently bolstered by donations of $85,000 from an insurance company and three charitable foundations to purchase laptops, refurbish the computer room and install Wi-Fi.

Hillside staff are combating the impact of COVID-19 by increasing communication efforts with school counselors, teachers and other administrators to assess where students are struggling and act on them accordingly.

Aaliyah Chapin is a senior at the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central. She was diagnosed with lupus during Covid.

Aaliyah Chapin speaks to Hillside Recreation Center Administration (Melissa Newcomb|[email protected])

“It was hard going back to school,” Chapin said. “I was really exhausted and needed a lot more help because I got tired during class and needed extra time because it was quite heavy.”

Her attorney worked with the school to ensure she had the necessary accommodations, such as extra time for assignments. She also gets tutoring at Hillside.

“We’ve definitely reached out to more students from Syracuse and OCC to come to our facilities and help us tutor the students,” Shanes said.

Hillside’s goal is to see its students progress through the graduation phase. 96 percent of Hillside program students graduated in June 2021, Shanes said.

Passing the state examination is important for this. Hillside offers practice tests, tutoring, and optional courses.

“You helped me write it, which gave me more confidence to write this essay,” said Neonna Banco, 15, while discussing the Regents English language exam she took in January.

The return to in-person learning also means students can once again take advantage of after-school activities, such as B. playing table football, playing video games or just hanging out with friends in the leisure center. Hillside renovated its gym last year.

Work Scholarship Connection students play foosball at Hillside (Melissa Newcomb|[email protected])

Hillside will use its recent donations to upgrade all three East Avenue buildings to broadband Wi-Fi. The system they are currently using only allows three student laptops to be used at the same time and users have to stay close to the server.

It will also double the number of laptops to around 60. The new laptops will be equipped with cameras and microphones, which is important for students taking online classes.

The computer room, where the current computers are more than a decade old, is being renovated.

In addition to students in the Work Scholarship Connection, the new technology will help students in the Senior Satellite Program, which helps students who are unable to learn in a traditional school. Some are pregnant or parents.

“We don’t always have to just look at the academics, you know, we have to make sure they can handle socially and emotionally talking about academics mentally,” Shanes said.

Hillside received the $85,000 in donations from four organizations. Northwestern Mutual donated $25,000, while the Central New York Community Foundation, the Green Family Foundation, and the Berkshire Bank Foundation each donated $20,000.

Hillside computer lab undergoing renovations thanks to corporate donations (Melissa Newcomb|[email protected])

Syracuse Superintendent Anthony Davis called Hillside “a valued partner” in an email.

“Some of our students may face tremendous barriers when it comes to their education, and resources such as expanded Wi-Fi capacity, increased access to technology, more frequent academic sessions and mentoring, and other related resources will be invaluable in leveling the playing field improve and help our students will be caught up after the pandemic,” Davis wrote.

Watchdog/Public Affairs reporter Melissa Newcomb covers education, including Syracuse University and city schools. For tips, contact them anytime at [email protected]315-679-1068 or @melissarnewcomb on Twitter.

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