Welcome to Jump INside, a blog series featuring stories from Jump IN for Healthy Kids, a United Way of Central Indiana partner that focuses on reducing and preventing childhood obesity in Central Indiana.
This is part one of a three-part series to tell you about a unique elementary school, nestled in Lawrence: Harrison Hill School. The area of Lawrence the school resides in is economically depressed, and its residents frequently struggle with poverty and the challenges that go with it. Family engagement is front and center at Harrison Hill, and that engagement has enabled the school to teach families healthy habits regarding nutrition and physical activity on a collaborative scale that we at Jump IN haven’t seen at any other schools.
The driver of this engagement is Neal Gore, the school’s Community Liaison. Neal’s wife has been a teacher at the school for a long time, and their family has a strong belief in “being present,” meaning that they live in the neighborhood where the school is, send their kids to the school and are committed to engaging as community members — as Neal puts it, “living where you’re making a difference, not outside of it.” Neal joined Harrison Hill four years ago, when the school was applying to United Way of Central Indiana’s Student Success grant to model the school as a “community school.” Neal was part of the group working on the grant, and when the school got the grant, Neal joined the staff to implement it. It was a sizable grant: over $400,000 distributed over three years. It’s now one year past the end of the grant, and Neal has worked hard to make the concept self-sustaining.
Harrison Hill sits in the middle of a neighborhood, so geographically it resides very much in a community. But there’s much more to a community school than where it’s built. The school is designed to be a hub for other services, a gathering of resources, that families can access. The school collaborates with experts in other fields to meet the needs of the students and their families — all at the school. On the day I visited, down the hall there was a visiting dentist cleaning teeth. Gore explains that the biggest need among families is quality health care.
Another, he says, is learning about good nutrition and creating access to healthy foods. Other resources offered at the school include financial advisors, cooking classes, a food pantry, a social worker and much more. Neal explains, “the goal is for every parent and every kid to walk in and say, ‘this is my school’ – owning it and taking care of each other.” The concept is working so well that it has been adopted by Lawrence Township Schools, which plans on converting four more district schools to the community school model starting the next school year. All five of those locations will impact the lowest income neighborhoods and the families with the highest needs in the district.
Harrison Hill is part of Jump IN’s community demonstration project that’s competing in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge. Jump IN is very grateful to the many partners in Greater Lawrence and the Far Eastside that we’re working with and will continue to work with long after the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge is over. The work is important, and we are dedicated to helping all residents have access to living a healthy lifestyle so that we can reduce childhood obesity and the dangerous health problems associated with it.