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Clayton Cares Program Covers Basic Needs to Ensure Students are Ready to Learn

The holidays are always a time when the community comes together to help those who are less fortunate. This year is no different in the School District of Clayton, but thanks to the newly established Clayton Cares program, this support will continue for District families well beyond the holiday season.

According to the American Psychological Association, “hunger-related toxic stress can negatively affect brain development, learning, information processing and academic achievement in children.” To address this concern among Clayton students, of whom 12.6 percent qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch program, the District’s social workers, Katie Burkard and Dr. Sheila Powell-Walker, have developed a comprehensive approach.

“The Clayton Cares program provides wraparound services to families by working to remove barriers that have the potential to impact student well-being and readiness for learning,” said Burkard.

Both social workers joined the District last school year as part of the District’s continued focus on supporting the social-emotional health of its students. Over the course of the year, Burkard and Powell-Walker identified the need for a centralized process for supporting the many challenges facing District families, including food, clothing and emergency financial assistance.

Twenty-three percent of families referred for social work intervention last school year experienced temporary or ongoing hardships related to basic needs. As described in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of School Needs, a student cannot be expected to perform at a high level if his/her basic physiological and safety needs have not been met.

“Clayton Cares is helping us to address the physiological needs of our students while indirectly addressing their needs for safety, belonging and esteem, with the goal of ensuring that students are available to learn,” said Powell-Walker.

Thanks to a $6,000 grant from the Clayton Education Foundation and a $500 grant from the Clayton High School Care Fund, the social workers have set up a pantry at CHS stocked with new and gently used clothing, non-perishable food items, household/personal care items and a washer and dryer. Additionally, Clayton Cares is able to provide assistance through gas cards, grocery cards and emergency aid for crisis situations.

“This program is not about providing handouts,” added Powell-Walker. “The work we do with families is very much strengths based, seeking to build on existing family assets in a way that results in long-term stability. Our work is tied to the larger purpose of who we are as a district.”

In addition to the grant funding, District students, staff, parents and community members have been key to supporting the Clayton Cares efforts this year. Staff members across the District donated non-perishable food items for 40 holiday baskets, with PTOs at every building contributing funds for grocery gift cards to supplement the baskets with perishable foods. CHS and WMS students helped to unload food items and assemble the baskets. WMS families donated nearly 500 pairs of socks and laundry detergent to the Clayton Closet, while District staff provided gently used clothing items. The social workers continue to formalize partnerships with community agencies and local businesses and will host drives at District schools to restock the pantry and collect financial donations as needed.

Assistance through the Clayton Cares program is available to any family in the District. Referrals for the program should be made through the social workers; Burkard serves the Family Center and elementary schools, while Powell-Walker supports WMS and CHS. If you or anyone you know could benefit from Clayton Cares, or if you would like to donate to the program, contact the social workers at [email protected] or [email protected]