JACKONVILLE, Fla. -- Some students heading back to school will start the new year with obstacles already in their paths. But the United Way is working with Duval County schools to try and help kids overcome outside influences so they can focus on what's really important.

It's called theFull Service Schools Initiativeand it helpskids like eight-year-old Phoenix Gilbert. His grandmother, Elissa Walker, says Phoenix is autistic and also deals with issues related to being developmentally delayed. For the past six months, he's been getting help from a Full Service School's resource center. Walker says it's helped tremendously.

"He couldn't talk much at all. But through a lot of teacher's help and therapists, he's learned how to speak, and speak clear enough so people can understand him," she says.

There are eight United Way resource centers placed throughout Duval County, but the centers don't just handle developmental and behavioral problems. The coordinator for Westside Full Service Schools, Karen Schum, says they partner with many organizations so they're equipped to handle most anything that can affect a child's learning.

"They could be struggling with grief, domestic violence, moving, divorce. There's domestic violence, mom and dad are fighting all the time, there's drug abuse within the homes, " Schum says.

Like Phoenix's grandmother, Denise Johnson is also raising her grandchildren.Johnson says the center helps her to provide for the kids, even on a tight budget.

"School supplies, clothes, whatever the kids need, all I have to do is make a phone call. And it's been a lifesaver," she says.

Each of the eight resource centers offers the same services, but they're tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual communities. Ribault Full Service Schools Coordinator, Sharon Robinson, says in her area, it's help for young parents that's in high demand.

"When you have a young mom who might be in school herself and has a two- or three-year-old, or an infant child, she needs to learn how to parent that baby, and she needs to learn math, reading, spelling and all that to pass school," Robinson explains.

Robinson says to help meet those needs, the Ribault center offers things like tutoring and meal assistance. But though the needs vary, she says all the centers aim to provide the best for the students.

To receive assistance from a Full Service School, students must be referred.

But the United Way says anybody - a parent, teacher, neighbor or even the students themselves - can make a referral.

For more information go to:

or: (Type "Full Service Schools" in the search box.)


An analysis done by the Florida Institute of Education at UNF measured the effectiveness of the Full Service Schools Initiative within Duval County schools and found:

Attendance - 20% improvement

Grades - 32% and 31% increases in Language Arts and Math

Retention - Students were half as likely to be retained two consecutive years