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Poverty challenges Medina school district

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MEDINA — There are many forms of diversity, but one in particular — socioeconomic — is a concern in Medina, school leaders said.

Garfield Elementary School, Medina Schools Superintendent Aaron Sable said, has one of the lowest socioconomic ratings in Medina County.

The school has a high percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunches, he said during Medina Diversity Project’s “A Conversation on Race with Medina City Schools” last week. Several children in the school are food insecure, meaning they don’t have regular meals in their homes or enough food in their refrigerators.

Socioeconomic diversity is prevalent across the county, according the Medina Diversity Project, but at Garfield, 60 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, Sable said.

About 40 people attended Wednesday’s conversation at Medina Library.

At Garfield, teachers and staff at the South Broadway Street school are “amazing,” said Jim Shields, Medina Schools’ director of human resources and the city’s Ward 4 councilman. “They are taking care of kids around the clock.”

He said the school also has many benefactors in the community, such as churches and community groups that provide food, school supplies and clothing.

Medina boys basketball coach Chris Hassinger, a physical education teacher at the high school, said he visits Garfield twice a week.

“There are so many at-risk kids there,” he said.

Hassinger said he’s attended poverty training at Bedford High School, which is predominately black, and learned that issues Bedford has been having weren’t caused by minority issues but poverty.

He said he hopes to copy Bedford’s guardian program, which connects a recent graduate with someone in the community. The individual can keep tabs on the graduate to see how he or she is doing or if there is anything he or she needs.

“It’s mind-blowing some of the things they have to deal with,” Hassinger said.

Medina’s pay-to-participate program, which can affect underprivileged students, was part of Wednesday’s conversation. Sable said 18.4 percent of the 7,200 students in the district are economically disadvantaged based on last year’s Ohio Report Card.

In a perfect world, he said, there wouldn’t be any fees to participate in sports or extracurricular programs at Medina.

“I don’t want to charge (fees),” he said. “We don’t have a choice.”

He said if the fees were eliminated, that money would have to come from somewhere else in the budget.

Hassinger said if a student is having trouble paying to participate, the district will work to “find a way to pay for it.”

Those who took part in Wednesday’s conversation said Hassinger, who serves as the district’s diversity coordinator, is making an impression on students with his upbeat, hands-on style.

Hassinger admitted he “hugs” kids because he finds there is a general lack of love in the world.

“I want to break down walls,” he said.

He said he notices some teachers get upset with students for not doing their homework.

The students “might be hungry,” he said.

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.



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