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Allentown's Raub Middle School sees spike in disciplinary issues, absenteeism in wake of pandemic

Tiffany Poleck and Hasshan Batts
Sarah Mueller
ASD Director of Student Services Tiffany Poleck and Hasshan Batts, director of Promise Neighborhood Lehigh Valley, speak to the school board about Raub Middle School.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown school board will consider a $1.2 million grant for violence prevention at Raub Middle School, plus $1.386 million for mental health services, at its regular meeting at the end of this month.

Tiffany Poleck, Allentown School District's director of student services, said at a board meeting Thursday night that there has been a jump in student behavioral issues at the school post-COVID-19. Jose Delgado, principal of Raub Middle School, said while there are 961 students enrolled, staff have counted more than 8,600 disciplinary infractions, including 15 weapons possessions, 97 fights and 23 assaults. He said more than 40% of students are chronically absent from school.

  • Raub Middle School to get added resources after students show rise in disciplinary issues, absenteeism
  • Violence prevention and mental health services eyed to address at-risk-youth
  • More than 40% of the 961 students are chronically absent

"So those are just some of the eye-popping numbers that we're going through," he said. "Currently, we do have several social services in our building right now, but they do not cover the great needs of our community, our Raub learning community."

There have been also been several incidents of violence in the on the East Side of Allentown this year, including a shooting that injured four adults around New Year's Eve near the East Side Youth Center.

Jeani Garica from the nonprofit group Promise Neighborhoods of Lehigh Valley said Raub is the conduit between Union Terrace Elementary School and Allen High School. She said they see a lot of unsavory things, such as fighting, bullying and possible gang activity.

"I think it's in the middle of two different schools," she said. "Trexler is on its own on 15th St., South Mountain is on the southside by itself over here. Raub is in the middle: Center City. They're in the middle of everything. They get to see everything."

The school district would contract with Valley Youth House for the next school year to provide mental health services for $1.386 million for Raub students. The district would also partner with nonprofit organizations Promise Neighborhoods, Shanti Project and Justice Collaboration LLC and Valley Youth House for services under a $1.2 million two-year grant.

Beth Tomlinson with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley said a pilot of the "Cure Violence Youth Violence Prevention Model" at Raub would hire and train school-based mentors to build trust and belonging with students.

"Having the [Promise Neighborhood] mentors walk with students and really engage local businesses, faith partners and other places along the way to really create safe spaces for kids on that route to really minimize incidents and risks on their way to and from school," she said.

School Board Director Phoebe Harris questioned the United Way on diversity and staffing for programs in light of the student population in Allentown that is more than 70% Hispanic.

"I'm looking at the list of partners and that is great," she said. "However, I don't see any Latino. Seventy percent of our kids are Latino. What happened?"

Promise Neighborhoods Director Hasshan Batts said his organization had a diverse staff to connect with students.

"We are black lead, but the majority of our staff are Latino and over 40% of our staff are bilingual at Promise Neighborhoods," he said. "The staff that will be working in the school, you will have bilingual staff that is from the community that does represent the students that are there."

Some other board members said it was important for schools to use caution in involving the police when mental health or special education services were more appropriate to the situation, especially for special needs students.

The next meeting of the school board is June 22nd when the board will vote on its final budget for the next fiscal year.