An initiative at Fulton Public Schools aims to meet students' basic needs, and fast.
"Students who don't have the basics are in survivor mode, not education mode," said Danielle Westmoreland, process coordinator and autism consultant at FPS.
She and Fulton Early Childhood Center Director Jennifer Meyerhoff spoke to the FPS board of education Wednesday about Bright Futures. Bright Futures originated in Joplin and has since spread to eight states and 32 communities within Missouri.
The initiative encourages connections between a school and its surrounding community.
"Communities and schools often work toward the same goals, but separately, not tapping into each other," Westmoreland said. "How do we unite everyone together?"
Participating schools get access to Bright Futures resources, plus their own Facebook page. When a student has an immediate need — say, a new pair of shoes — teachers can post to the page, allowing community members to rapidly respond. Most needs are met within 24 hours in Bright Futures communities, Westmoreland said.
"Teachers do a lot already to meet the needs of children," Meyerhoff said.
FPS teachers frequently exchange emails looking for shoes in a certain size or clothes to stock a clothes closet.
"I've seen staff getting together to buy Thanksgiving dinner for families," she said.
She witnessed another scenario where Bright Futures could help at a recent Fulton Housing Authority meeting, Meyerhoff said. A mother of several children was in danger of being evicted after coming up $163 short. Housing is, of course, one of students' most basic needs.
Bright Futures can help take some of the pressure off both families and teachers when it comes to meeting those needs, Westmoreland said.
"You know people are already out there and would love to help," Meyerhoff said.
Westmoreland watched Bright Futures in action at a previous job at a Mexico school and is eager to bring the initiative to Fulton.
Other aspects of the program focus on fostering mentorship between students and community members and encouraging students to participate in volunteer work.
School board members unanimously voted to authorize FPS joining the Bright Futures network. The next step for Meyerhoff and Westmoreland is raising $3,000 — a one-time affiliation fee for joining the network — and putting together an advisory board. The board will consist of local and school leaders and will help steer and organize Bright Futures efforts at FPS.
They hope to launch the initiative by the beginning of next school year at the latest.