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Southern Illinois school districts work on community efforts to help students

CARBONDALE (WSIL) — Several school districts have teamed up with Harvard to help struggling students.

The approach aims to improve the lives of lower income families.

Mary Jane Morris helped get 18 school districts in southern Illinois together because a large group of students in those districts are not doing well in the classroom, and school officials feel that more can be done.

"We have a lot of students, as we all know, that have been traumatized in southern Illinois due to poverty, a family member incarcerated, and just a variety of other things. We have a huge drug problem," Morris said.

For the last year, they’ve been working with Harvard’s Educational Redesign Lab, figuring out a plan to address issues outside the classroom.

"Students spend 20 percent of their waking hours in the school, so 80 percent of their waking hours are outside of school, and there are enormous inequalities in the lives of children outside of school," lab director Paul Reville said. "So we’re working with communities to try and help remedy that and level the playing field."

The districts came together Thursday to share their initial plans, hoping to coordinate partnerships with community groups, mental health facilities, even church leaders.

"Every student should be able to be a success," Morris said. "And to do that, it takes a whole community of people working together."

The trouble is getting more public support and awareness for such efforts, especially in a rural area where certain services are hard to find.

But with some plans in place to tackle the problems out of school, Reville said getting more help from the public is the next step.

"Because if children can’t come to school in the first place or don’t come to school in the first place, or when they arrive there, they’re so distracted or operating under such toxic stress that they aren’t able to concentrate or provide a focused, motivated effort, then all the school reform in the world isn’t going to work," Reville said.

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