Full-service hub at old Highland Springs HS is key piece of new countywide strategy

When the 2022-23 school year begins, the old Highland Springs High School building will be repurposed as Henrico County Public Schools’ first full-service community school hub. Rechristened the Oak Avenue Complex, the facility will be a major step in a new strategy to connect students and families with community services.

It’s no secret that challenges students face outside of school — such as a lack of health care or nutritious food — can affect their success in the classroom. The strategy behind full-service community schools is to expand the use of school facilities, creating a one-stop shop where students and families can connect with groups providing the services they need.

“Schools are everywhere. Why not use them?” said Mike Taylor, chief executive officer of the Henrico Education Foundation. “This strategy makes use of public buildings beyond the typical school day, as places for not just students, but families to thrive.”

While Highland Springs students already have access to an after-school enrichment program provided by the Henrico Education Foundation through federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding, summer renovations at the Oak Avenue Complex will add dedicated areas for a variety of programs. The hub will provide access to health care, mental health services and dental services; classrooms where family members can take classes or pursue a GED; and a food pantry. Health services would require the permission of parents or guardians.

The strategy is powered by a partnership among HCPS, the Henrico Education Foundation, nonprofit organizations and community donors. Existing HCPS partnerships with community groups are a natural fit for the new strategy.

Taylor stresses that full-service community school hubs will function as bridges between students and services.

“People sometimes say, ‘oh, you’re creating more public programs,’ but that’s not what this does. We’re not expanding what a school can do, we’re expanding what you can do in a school. We’re making schools available to community resources that already exist.”

The Oak Avenue Complex will be the centerpiece of the strategy in the Varina district, but organizers hope to create similar full-service hubs in Henrico’s other four magisterial districts. Each hub school will have “spokes” — more limited program sites — at nearby schools. For instance, while each hub would house a permanent full-service health clinic, nearby schools might have technology for telehealth clinics. While a hub would have a full food pantry, others would serve as food-bag distribution sites for families who need them.

The project has been six years in the making. Organizers learned a great deal from a pilot program at HCPS’ Glen Lea Elementary School. That school opened a new telehealth clinic in November where students can be seen virtually by health care providers from the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, and VCU Dental Care. Program organizers also visited or consulted with similar full-service community school approaches in Oakland, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Greenville, S.C., and Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.

“Full-service hubs are a wonderful strategy for equitable engagement,” said Adrienne Cole Johnson, HCPS’ chief of family and community engagement. “It’s a way to work with groups in our community — better together, and faster — to make sure our students and families have access to important services. And not just students in a particular school building, but all Henrico families.”

Reprinted with permission of Henrico County Public Schools.