ST. CLOUD — By this time next year, two St. Cloud district schools will be transformed into full-service hubs for students and their families, thanks to a five-year $2.5 million federal grant.

Discovery Community School in Waite Park and North Junior High in St. Cloud will provide additional arts activities and afterschool programsfor kids, as well as health care, financial counseling and career services for entire families.

"It will reinforce academics and enrichment for our students and also meet needs for families," Superintendent Laurie Putnam said. "Because we know when a family system does better, our students achieve better."

Putnam said the district chose the two schools based on need, such as the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, and families who might face barriers to the resources the schools will provide.

Another requirement was enough extra space to house the services, which will be provided by about 20 community partners, such as CentraCare, Central Minnesota Mental Health Center and three local performing arts organizations.

"We really wanted it to have an arts focus because we know, often, that's where we end up cutting when we have to really focus on reading or math or there's a lot of learning recovery that needs to happen," Putnam said.

Each school will have an advisory board made up of members from the community partners, district staff and administration, and families.

"They will decide what the programming looks like and what the needs are," Putnam said. "People are really excited about not only the services but also really that shift in perspective from 'schools know best' to 'we're all in this together.'"

The grant was one of 30 awarded nationwide last week by the U.S. Department of Education — and the only one in Minnesota. The grants were designed to fund "full-service community schools" and based on research indicating students learn better and have better attendance when their whole needs are met.

"We know how important this opportunity will be for kids in our community," said Amy Trombley, vice president of education for United Way Partner for Student Success, which is one of the partnering organizations. "It has seen success in other communities so being able to replicate that here is amazing."

Trombley said Minnesota has a "loose network" of full-service community schools, including in Brooklyn Center and Northfield, as well as in Deer River on the Leech Lake Reservation, which was awarded a federal grant in 2020. There's also some state money earmarked for full-service community schools.

If successful, the St. Cloud district could look to expand the programming to other district schools.

"We get the opportunity to explore what this can look like as a pilot," Trombley said, "and then continue to grow and expand."