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Finding Solace in a Community School

By Henry Street Settlement

Nicole Satchell smiles while reading a book.

Nicole Satchell has one word to sum up her senior year: bittersweet. A senior at Orchard Collegiate Academy (OCA) on the Lower East Side, the 18-year-old finds solace in the community she has built there. “When I’m here at school, I feel happy. I have so many people that really support me and are there for me,” she says.

However, when Nicole began ninth grade during the pandemic, she wasn’t sure how she was going to get through high school. Being stuck in the house left her feeling isolated and numb to her emotions. “A lot of people don’t understand what I’ve been through,” she says. “If it wasn’t for the support system that I’ve had here at OCA and my mom, I would’ve given up a long time ago.”

For Joelle Diaz, director of Henry Street Settlement’s community school partnership at OCA, letting Nicole give up on school was not an option. Nicole met Joelle, a licensed social worker, in a weekly virtual stress management group for students, just one of the ways Henry Street provides emotional support to the student body.

The community school model integrates social service organizations into the fabric of public school life to improve attendance, enrollment, and ultimately graduation rates. OCA is one of four community schools that Henry Street co-runs with the school system, collaborating closely with principals to address students’ needs and any barriers that may interfere with their education.

Since OCA became a community school, graduation rates have soared from 40% in 2015 to 90% in 2023, and enrollment has doubled since the collaboration began. Through groups and individual sessions, Joelle helped Nicole articulate her emotions and taught her coping skills like listening to music and deep breathing, making uncomfortable emotions more tolerable. “If I didn’t learn these things when I did, I might have gotten into fights to take out my stress,” she says.

A student stands with two school administrators in a classroom.

Nicole credits her community school support system, college counselor Olivia Bacot (left) and Community School Director Joelle Diaz, for helping her survive and thrive in high school.

Nicole also joined the Settlement’s Expanded Horizons College Access and Success program, found a part-time job through the Youth Opportunity Hub, and received additional support from the School-Based Mental Health team. This constellation of services has boosted her confidence and adaptability—qualities that will aid her pursuit of a college degree in business.

“Henry Street gave me an opportunity and saw the potential in me,” she says. “They see how much I’m worth.”

As Nicole looks ahead to graduation and starting college at SUNY New Paltz in the fall, she acknowledges how far she’s come and how hard the goodbyes will be. But now, she is letting herself experience both the sadness of leaving high school and the excitement of celebrating her accomplishments with the Henry Street team and her biggest supporter, her mom. “I never thought I was going to get to this moment. Walking across that stage after four years of working so hard…it’s like, ‘I did that.’”

To learn more about Henry Street Settlement’s community school partnerships, click here.

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