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UCF was recognized by Orange County Public Schools as an “Outstanding Partner in Education” for their community school initiative with Evans High School during an award ceremony at SeaWorld on April 29.

“Students and staff at UCF stepped up to the plate to support our Trojans, their families and our teachers, exceeding all expectations,” wrote Jennifer Eubanks, principal and Partners in Education coordinator at Evans High School, in her nomination letter. “UCF is a dynamic partner involved in multiple initiatives, from supporting our teachers and students in our reading classes to providing mental health services to our families for free.”

The community school opened in October 2012, with UCF taking the lead initiative in a joint effort also involving Orange County Public Schools and the Children’s Home Society of Florida. Since then, UCF has added another partner in True Health.

UCF implemented tutoring services, a food pantry and recently added a wellness cottage. Students, their family, faculty members and the community have access to behavioral healthcare and dental healthcare at Evans’ Campus.

“The amount of time that they [students and faculty] are actually able to stay and remain in school has been really significant,” said Amy Ellis, assistant director of UCF’s Center for Community Schools and Child Welfare Innovation. “It’s been huge, as far as academic time, and how much time they're able to spend in class.”

UCF’s food pantry and behavioral health services have surely made a difference in the school which is located in Pine Hills, one of Orlando’s most underprivileged areas, which, according to city-data.com, saw 30.2 percent of residents earning an income below the poverty level in 2013.

“When you have kids that are hungry, or they’ve got something going on at home and they can’t think and they need to maybe have somebody to talk to, or they need a snack, or whatever it is, they’re able to access that at the school,” Ellis said. “It makes a significant impact on their academics and how they function during the school day."

Evans community school has had continued growth since the community school opened. Graduation rates have gone up by 20 percent, SAT scores have improved and disciplinary incidents have decreased. UCF’s community school model has even received state and national recognition due to the significant gains of Evans Community School.

“The community school model is kind of a reflection of what does the community need and how can the partners with resources that they have put together solutions that work,” said Director of UCF’s Center for Community Schools and Child Welfare Innovation. “It’s a very different approach, which I personally like.”

UCF is receiving increasing support from the state legislature as they look to build more community schools. In April, the state legislator included 1.5 million dollars in the 2016-17 budget to support UCF’s efforts of the Center for Community Schools and Child Welfare innovation. For the 2015-16 budget, UCF received 900,000.

“There is a particular model and framework that [we're] working with from Evans, and we’re trying to replicate that,” Ellis said. “We have a certification standard that we have put in place in order for us to actually try to replicate it as close to Evans as possible.”

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Jean Racine is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at JeanR@centralfloridafuture.com or follow him on twitter at @jeangracine.

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