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Worcester Public Schools and UMass Medical School unveil family support services initiative

Remillard Family Community Service Grant funds food pantry, laundry rooms, and backpacks loaded with school supplies

  Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda thanks UMass Medical School for supporting the schools with a new initiative, as UMMS Chancellor Michael F. Collins and Community & Government Relations Senior Director Kolawole Akindele look on.
  Maureen Binienda thanks UMass Medical School for supporting the schools with a new initiative, as Chancellor Collins and Kolawole Akindele look on.

The fruits—and vegetables, beans, grains and other pantry staples—of a collaboration between UMass Medical School and the Worcester Public Schools were unveiled at East Middle School on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The groceries on display, along with 700 backpacks filled with new school supplies and new laundry rooms, are now available to students thanks to the new support services initiative between UMass Medical School and the Worcester Public Schools, funded by a grant from the Remillard Family Community Service Fund. The initiative was launched to help address socioeconomic barriers to academic success faced by some K-12 students in Worcester.

“UMass Medical School has had a program focused in the north quadrant in the Worcester Public Schools in which we engage with students and assist them at many different phases of their educational careers,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins, noting that two current School of Medicine students are North High graduates. “Today we’re furthering that engagement to help students have success in the early years of their education so they will be prepared for college and beyond. We need and want great Worcester students to populate our school because we know when they do, they have a desire to stay in the community and practice in the community.”

The support services initiative builds on a highly successful academic partnership between UMass Medical School and the North Quadrant of the Worcester Public Schools. Now in its 21st year, the Worcester Pipeline Collaborative has worked to encourage, educate and prepare underrepresented, educationally and economically disadvantaged students for success in the biomedical, biotechnology research, and health care professions.

The Remillard Family Community Service Fund was established in 2015 with a philanthropic investment of $3 million by the Remillard Family Foundation. The fund is dedicated to providing ongoing support for community outreach programs led by UMass Medical School faculty, staff and students. In its first year, the endowment provided three grants totaling $50,000, including one for Worcester Public Schools North Quadrant Support Services.

The first three projects of the North Quadrant support services initiative were selected to address root causes of chronic absenteeism: hunger, embarrassment about wearing dirty clothing, and inability to purchase school supplies. The grant supports continued stocking of a new food pantry built recently by UMMS volunteers at North High School to provide nutritionally balanced food to students and families challenged by food insecurity. It is also funding the purchase and distribution of 700 backpacks filled with school supplies for elementary school children at Rice Square and Union Hill Schools. Third is the purchase and installation of clothes washers and dryers in four quadrant schools to assist students who feel ostracized or insecure about wearing unclean clothes due to their family’s lack of access to laundry facilities.

The North Quadrant includes some of the city’s most economically challenged neighborhoods, as evidenced by data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which show that 81.4 percent of students at North High are considered to have “high needs” and 63.6 percent are “economically disadvantaged.”

“This is a model that would be great for every urban school to emulate,” said Maureen Binienda, superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools. “I feel very fortunate to have UMass Medical School as our partner as we continue to look at what are the challenges for our students and how we can solve them together.”

Attendees at the event toured the laundry facility at East Middle School, featuring two new sets of washers and dryers. Kolawole Akindele, senior director of community and government relations at UMass Medical School, announced that laundry equipment will also be installed at the Belmont Community, Union Hill and Grafton Street elementary schools, and that access to the food pantry at North High School will be expanded to students of East Middle and the quadrant’s elementary schools. On Aug. 29, 30 volunteers from UMass Medical School will be on hand to distribute hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies to children at Rice Square School and Union Hill School.

Click below to watch UMMS and Worcester Public Schools representatives discuss the new initiative.

Media coverage of the event:
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
TV3 Worcester News Tonight

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
New Remillard Family Fund at UMMS supports community service
Worcester Pipeline Collaborative celebrating 20 years