State of City presenters say Middletown needs to invest in its youth, its future leaders

The City of Middletown, Middletown school district and Butler County could invest more than $12 million of their American Rescue Plan Act funds either renovating or building a new Robert "Sonny" Hill Jr. Community Center, 800 Lafayette Ave. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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The City of Middletown, Middletown school district and Butler County could invest more than $12 million of their American Rescue Plan Act funds either renovating or building a new Robert "Sonny" Hill Jr. Community Center, 800 Lafayette Ave. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

The future of Middletown’s youth was the topic of two presenters during Mayor Nicole Condrey’s State of the City address Tuesday night after the city council meeting.

Chris Urso, president of the Middletown City Schools board of education, and Stephen Hightower II, board member at the Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center, talked about their organizations and the roles they play in the development of young people.

Hightower said he and his family were raised in the center, what he called “an anchor for Middletown.”

The City of Middletown has committed $2.1 million of its $18.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to either renovate or build a community center. The Middletown school system has pledged $4 million and the city is asking Butler County for $6 million, Hightower said.

Earlier this year, the city approved a $50,000 grant to research a possible renovation or building of a community center that would provide “cradle to career” programs, said Karin Maney, executive director of the Community Building Institute that manages the community center, 800 Lafayette Ave.

The money will be spent to draw “a picture of what we want to have happen,” Maney said.

A committee has started meeting to discuss the best way to approach the operations of the community center, according to Hightower. The goal, he said, is to “answer the needs” of all residents.

He’d like to see several programs and services added, including a five-star preschool, play center, STEM and gaming, teen center, learning kitchen, event space and mentorship initiatives.

Urso said the district needs to produce graduates who are “career and college ready learners.”

He said the district received about $26 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning.

The district has allocated $5 million to include investment in preschool spaces at a new community center, guidance support for college for Middletown High students, professional learning opportunities for staff and investment and monitoring student progress regarding career and college readiness.

This year, the district adopted a new Strategic Vision that will guide it for the next six years, according to Urso. A central feature of the vision is the Passport to Tomorrow that focuses on helping prepare all students for post-graduation success by developing an “array of competencies,” he said.

The goal is for students to be career and college ready learners, global citizens, self-aware leaders, collaborators and networkers, effective communicators, critical thinkers and problem solvers, he said.

“We believe that if our students display these attributes as graduates, they will be ready for any postsecondary experience they choose,” he said.

So far, he said, the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton and 10 local businesses and higher education institutions have endorsed the district’s Passport to Tomorrow. The district’s goal is 100 businesses, he said.

The businesses will provide mentorships and guarantee job interviews, he said.

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