Josh Hurley has worn many hats in a career dedicated to service. He’s worked in law enforcement, served as a pastor and is the dean of students at the Cascade School District, located in Valley County. This life experience helped Hurley understand that schools, especially in rural communities, are a vital component that can have many positive impacts of the lives of youth in Idaho.
Josh and leadership at Cascade School District recognized that there were things happening outside of the school setting that were greatly impacting student academics and attendance. They wanted to better understand how the school could help students and address the issues impacting student academics.
One strategy they learned about was Community Schools, which is an approach for partnering with services and integrating programming to help students and families thrive. Initially, the district joined a learning cohort through the Idaho Coalition for Community Schools to learn best practices for operating as a community school. The district then applied for and received an implementation grant from the coalition that helped it launch as a community school and hire a coordinator.
The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health is one of several organizations that contribute to a shared fund that grants from the coalition.
Hurley, who is also the basketball coach at the school, has added Community Schools coordinator to his job title. He approaches his new duties by asking simple questions: “How do we help families and students thrive? How do we make an impact in our community from within the school?”
Hurley is a lifelong Idahoan who has seen the rugged individualism that is common in Idaho communities be a barrier to asking for help or specific services. He respects these values and understands how getting to know families and their needs can make a positive impact in the school and community.
“The family unit is probably one of the most important parts to building a good, solid community,” he said.
The school district has listened and responded to what the community wants and needs. Some of the services and programs the district offers are:
- After-school programming
- Onsite behavioral health services
- Recreation center
- Connections with the food pantry and local churches that provide clothes
“I’ve always got my ears to the ground and trying to help address those needs,” he said. “Our intended goal is to figure out what kids want, what families need, and to build our community school from that.”
Hurley and a committee of other passionate individuals in Cascade started a teen center, “Cascade Game Changer,” that is operated by a teen advisory board and supported by a large portion of the community. The goal is to help fulfill the center’s vision of “creating a fun place for Cascade teens to hang out where they are mentored into adults who will mentor teens.” A primary goal of the teen center is to establish a mentorship program that would prepare students for careers and help with workforce shortages in the area.
“A really important goal for me is for every teen to leave the Cascade School District with a cover sheet that shows all their volunteer hours, all the mentoring time they’ve done and the activity time they’ve spent here,” he said. “They can show this to employers or universities. We have to create that culture of mentorship.”
These programs and services are designed to help kids thrive and set them up for success in and out of the classroom.
“I think Community Schools are an important part of implementing the requirements of the Idaho Constitution when it says every child shall have a free and fair public education,” Hurley said. “I think our communities as a whole need to work together to make sure that when children show up, they have that ability to get focused in the classroom. Sometimes it takes the resources of an entire community to make this happen. The Community Schools strategy is really the mechanism that we can use to get that done.”