Saturday, December 12, 2009

It Takes a Village!

Chets Creek is made up of about 1200 students in grades K-5. Like many schools, our population is very diverse. Over 21 languages are spoken in our homes and our second language population continues to grow every year. Our free and reduced breakfast and lunch percentage also continues to creep up each year and currently is around 22%. That means that we have almost as many students on free and reduced breakfast and lunch (250+) as some of our urban schools! While our school is very close to a gated country club, our attendance area also includes a mobile home community of almost a 1000 homes.

Over the years, like most schools, as we have combed through our data, we have looked at many factors such as our Special Education and safety net services, Level 1-2 FCAT students, discipline referrals, free and reduced lunch, second language learners, and many of the other indicators that might be factored into our academic achievement. Because a third of our children as nestled together in that one mobile home community, that area often pops out as an area that includes many of our at-risk kids. Don't get me wrong. There are also many wonderful, hard-working families in that community - many retirees also live there. We have hard working PTA moms from that community and some of our school employees come from that same area, but when you have so many homes in a single area and the economy takes a plunge and times become so tight, it is not surprising that that area would continue to be singled out as a place where some of our neediest students reside.

As a Leadership Team we have often dreamed about on-site tutoring or summer camps or other services that we might give to this under served community in a meaningful way but because we do not qualify for some of the extra monies that are available to schools with majority poverty, we have never done more than dream and talk about it. This year, however, the Leadership Team decided to go over to the Community Center and talk to the resident manager about what he felt the needs in the community might be and how we, as educators, could have the families see us as active members of their community. We want our families to know that we really do care about them and we are willing to be there as neighbors. That's what this is really all about- turning to our neighbors next door and being there when there is a need in a meaningful way - showing our love in real, substantial ways.

At the same time that the Leadership Team was planning on loading up in a van to visit the community, Beach United Methodist Church, one of churches attended by many of our faculty, did a series of sermons about service. They declared Saturday, December 12 as an official day of service for its members. The idea was that each member would seek out a way to be of service to their neighbors on that specific day. Liz Duncan, both a member of BUMC and a Special Education teacher at Chets Creek who handles much of the discipline at school, stepped up to organize an event at our mobile home community on the specified day. The idea snowballed and even as it drizzled rain today, crews were all over the area offering a helping hand.
Bags of groceries were at the
Community Center for the taking and
some were even delivered

Volunteers circled in prayer
on this rainy Saturday of service
Bundles of baby blankets and clothes
Delivering groceries
Food offerings

Crews went out to decorate common areas with tinsel and ribbon and others pressured washed homes that were in violation of the community's ordinances. Teachers and teens along with small church groups went into homes stapling plastic to cover windows as the colder weather begins to fall upon us, leaving groceries and blankets at each stop. All of our faculty that are second language speakers themselves went to translate for second language families. Our Principal sat on the phone calling families from our school and reminding them to stop by the Community Center for the party activities and snacks but also to pick up anything they wanted. Teachers made holiday ornaments with the children and helped them decorate holiday cookies at the Center. Santa was there for pictures or just to chat. Bags and bags of groceries were given away along with blankets, clothes and toys. Families were encouraged to take anything they wanted.

It is our hope that this day will be just the beginning of a real relationship with this community. Wouldn't it be nice if this relationship made a difference in the academic achievement of the children that we serve? Sure, it would... but today was about getting to know each other better - letting our families know that helping means more than offering a few hours of tutoring at school - it was about showing our families, and ourselves, that we are really ready to walk the talk.

People often ask me what makes Chets Creek different than other schools. Today is what makes it different. I work with people who say they care and then turn that into action. I work with people who believe they can make a difference and then do something about it. I work with people who see teaching as their life's work and then make that real in their daily life. May every day this holiday season be a living testimony to our beliefs...

Update: We could never have known it at the time, but this day was the beginning of the school's commitment that led to opening the ARC (which was a tutoring center in the community) which led to the MARC when the Mckenzie Wilson Foundation decided to lend the name of their beautiful daughter and their resources to this community.  This was the beginning of a dream that became a reality.

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