It's not just a school. It's a community center, a food pantry, a counseling service.

A hub at Paterson's John F. Kennedy High School is the state's first federally funded full-service community highs school, providing all types of wrap-around services for students and their families.

Those services include tutoring, medical and dental screenings, mental health counseling and even laundry. The school has also also partnered with Felician University in Lodi to provide dual enrollment.

The hub inside the high school also features a peace room where students and parents can go to iron out their conflicts. Instead of students getting suspended, schools Superintendent Eileen Shafer said the peace room helps them learn coping skills. Teenagers sometimes resort to their hands in resolving conflicts so Shafer said the program tries to teach them other avenues to take that will help them as they move on in life.

She said the whole focus of the program, which is open to all students who attend the high school and their families, is to reduce the barriers so they can be successful. For example, Shafer said sometimes kids don't come to school simply because they don't have clean clothes.

"We now provide two washers and dryers. You sign up to use them. We also provide all the detergents and everything else that you need. You go there, do your laundry, wash it, dry it fold it and take it home after school," said Shafer.

There is a also a food pantry for students whose families are struggling. Shafer said there are 60 families who are being provided with 15 meals on a monthly basis.

Also included in the full-service community high school are social workers and a doctor who provides health screenings, eye exams and nutrition counseling.

Shafer said while this is the first of its kind in the state, she sees other areas of New Jersey adopting this kind of program, especially in urban areas where many parents don't drive and transportation is a barrier. It's so convenient to have all these services inside the school for students and their families and at the same time.

She said some children come to school with mental health issues. Others come in carrying the heavy burden of adult responsibilities, such as trying to juggle both school and a job.

Shafer said the Paterson school district opened School 5 in 2010 and began providing eye screenings and free eyeglasses for students. She remembers one boy crying when he got his glasses because it was the first time he could clearly see.

Then in September 2018, with the help of U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., the Paterson district was awarded a $2.5 million grant to start two new full-service community schools, one of which was the John F. Kennedy Education Complex. The other is School 2.

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