Paige Hoffman is the Community School Coordinator at Fountain Hill Elementary. Born and raised in Montgomery County, she considers herself a Lehigh Valley transplant. After graduating from Moravian College and Lehigh University, she has worked in the South Bethlehem community for over 10 years.
In my ten years at Fountain Hill Elementary School, not one work day has been the same — truly.
Take today, Nov. 21: I picked up four donated Thanksgiving meals at a local retirement community on my drive to South Bethlehem. Three colleagues met me at the door to help me unload at our school, the largest in the Bethlehem Area School District. Thanksgiving meals are just one part of the many basic needs we handle in our building.
It was 8:55 a.m. As buses unloaded, I was stationed out front, hoping to offer a smile and a “good morning” to each of our kiddos as they rushed to get inside the warm school and out of the cold.
I strive to make this the non-negotiable, firm part of my day: seeing their smiles and sneaking in a quick shoulder squeeze. Knowing the kids will be in our bubble for the day gives me comfort and energy.
I ran upstairs by 9:15 a.m. All of our 520 students from kindergarten to fifth grade engage in a curriculum of social-emotional learning. A sweet perk for me is teaching this curriculum in our fifth-grade classrooms. I’m not trained as a teacher, but the chance to connect with students on this level is a privilege I appreciate.
It was a special day at Fountain Hill: the Turkey Bowl, a long-standing tradition before the Thanksgiving holiday when school staff play fifth graders in a football game on our playground. The rivalry (just like the famed Lehigh one) runs deep. I jumped in on the staff side of the ball, and this year we won!
Later, 40 more Thanksgiving meals are delivered to the building. By the end of the day, they will be handed over to families identified as food-insecure or struggling. Distribution of food, clothing, winter apparel and hygiene supplies is one top priority we carry out as part of the community school model at Fountain Hill.
These priorities include organizing after-school enrichment programs, incorporating health and mental health services into our school day, and treating families as school partners.
We help guide families through housing and employment issues, offer engagement events and coordinate the Tiger Parents Task Force.
We are fortunate to have relationships with partners here in our local community that provide programming, resources and volunteers on behalf of our school. In fact, Lehigh University is our lead community school partner, providing a crucial foundation for community school work, both on the ground and from a thousand-foot view.
What’s even cooler is that Lehigh plays that same role at the other two schools in SouthBethlehem: Donegan Elementary School and Broughal Middle School. #TeamSouthside is strong!
The goal of the community school framework could be described with the school being the “hub” of their neighborhood, but I think of it as more of a heart.
The kids are the oxygen, the essential requirement for a body (or school) to work.
The muscles are the teachers and staff, lifting the heavy load of teaching exceptionally high-need students, a daunting task for even the most seasoned educators.
The parents and families are the bones because the body would collapse without them.
Our partners are the organs, each responsible for a different function, but all equally important in their role.
A community school pumps blood through the body, so that the muscles, bones and organs get their jobs done and keep that oxygen flowing.
The turkeys are out the door and I am feeling a little sore from the game. I glance at the calendar for tomorrow but smile knowing that the schedule will change. Will tomorrow be the same as today? Not a chance. But 44 turkeys and a football game is another good one for the books.