Westmont Hilltop: A special report 'Special' partnership with community at forefront for school district

·3 min read

Aug. 20—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Westmont Hilltop Superintendent Thomas Mitchell's philosophy is that "it takes a community to raise a child," and that's why he says the district strives to involve the students and staff in West Hills community activities.

"We can't do everything from the school district — that's why we have partners to help," he said.

One of those partnerships is with the Community Arts Center of Cambria County.

Mitchell said the district works closely with the arts center to make sure parents know about the programming there.

He noted that a strong regional arts network helps make the district attractive to new families.

"Within the various program and activity components that CACCC has had over the years, I believe that institutionally we have been working and partnering with Westmont Hilltop School District for most of our existence," arts center Executive Director Angela Godin said.

"And with it being our 54th year as an arts organization, that is pretty special to us."

The district and organization collaborate on a variety of programs.

That includes offering special "Hilltopper class and workshop discounts," partnering for the Earned Income Tax Credit, offering field trips to the center, alerting the Westmont school community to free offerings and more.

"The school and the Community Arts Center are really about serving our community," Godin said.

"Both really believe in our young people and how valuable it is to provide tangible artistic experiences for them — for all ages. CACCC is so close to the physical location of the schools that it makes this realistic."

She added that she believes it's important to the district leaders to be an institution with an "eager interest in their students," which has a long-lasting impact.

Role of recreation

There's also an annual student council-organized blood drive to support the American Red Cross, a Thanksgiving luncheon for senior citizens and "Westy Wardrobe" that allows students a bi-weekly trip to a first-floor classroom for personal care products, school supplies, clothing and other items.

Westmont schools have partnered with other local groups, such as the West Hills Recreation Commission — led by director Megan Stasko since 2019.

Prior to joining the school board, current President Robert Gleason was involved in starting the organization.

In recent years, that partnership has waned, but the school leader wants to rekindle the mutually beneficial agreement.

"Recreation is very important to the community," he said.

"It's so important for the school district to participate in recreation because we own the facilities."

The rec commission is responsible for the Grove, the Ridge, playgrounds and other facilities in the West Hills region, while the school district has the tennis courts, gymnasiums, fields and other amenities.

An initial step to rebuilding the partnership is with a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recreation study to restart a joint committee made up of the district and the municipalities in its footprint.

Stasko served as a tour guide for the consultant when that person was in town.

She said she is in favor of the various stakeholders working together and wants to see a joint effort to better the community.

Stasko used the Windber area as an example of a collective push by organizations and groups to better a community.

She's also in favor of students volunteering.

"I would love to see students helping out or other people in the community — helping and making it better," Stasko said.

One area these various interests could come together is at the site of the former Westmont Hilltop Elementary School on Goucher Street, which was recently demolished.

Gleason said his vision is for that plot of land to host a community recreation center with a swimming pool.

"We have an opportunity to make the quality of life better here," he said.

Gleason said the new Price Field represents the "fulcrum of aggressive development of recreation in the West Hills."