“There have been a lot of changes. Mostly external – the appearance of the school has changed significantly. In the last year also there’s been a lot of effort to pull the families into the school. Ms. A has started the process of pulling people in here. Last year was her first year and these things take time. She’s very visible – that’s huge, that makes it more comfortable for the parents. The parents can see her, the kids do, the communities sees
her outside of the building. They want to know that there are actual human beings in here and we’re not just a permanent structure that’s been here forever and that never affects or generates change.
“The school had a lot of sort of structural changes in the past couple of years. When I first started here we were a K-4 school, and then they added a middle school which really changes the way that parents relate to the school. Middle schoolers’ parents tend to be less active in their kids’ school than elementary schoolers’ parents. Ms. A had to really work to change the dynamic so that parents still thought of this as a community center where they should and can be involved.
“She wants this school to serve as a community center. This neighborhood is made up of people with a lot of needs outside of school that inhibit teachers from really being able to do their jobs. In order for us to be successful we need to supply so much more than just an education. We can’t get to educate until we’ve met primary needs.
“For example, we have a lot of children who are transient because they’re homeless. We call it displaced. They may be living with other family members and with their parents but not in a place of their own. That’s tough.
“We have poor children here who aren’t eating. Our breakfast program, our lunch program – that’s the food they are getting. And we have abusive families. Not all of them but enough that it has an impact on everyone and everything that goes on inside this building. If we can give parents more resources, especially if you have a child with learning disabilities or a child who just needs some extra help, if you can provide those resources at home to help them then the children come in happier and it’s easier for us to run our own programs.
“That starts with parents. We beg these parents to come into the building. We empower them, and let them know that we are here to work as a team. We tell them, listen these are the things we can give you. Sometimes it’s just coats. Sometimes it’s Thanksgiving baskets. Like last year every class donated a basket in the building so that, I’m not sure exactly how many classes we have – something like forty – so forty classes donated baskets. Because of us forty families got to eat for Thanksgiving who other wise wouldn’t have had any food. That’s what goes on here to get the parents to believe that this is a family – this a a community. If they think of this school as a safe haven for the community then the kids feel safe coming here.
“And this place really is a family. So many teachers have been here for a long time. That’s why the school is the way it is. The teachers are so full of love for this place. Mitchell just has this family environment. The staff that come into this building know that there’s a bigger need than just education. In order to be a teacher here you have to be the kind of person who wants to work with families and inject yourself into the lives of your students. You have to want to do more.
“And that has a huge effect on parents. There are generations of students who graduated from this school and are now parents of students. When they come through and they recognize the teachers who taught them they feel safe. They just want to know who’s here. And then when Ms. A asks parents, “What can we do for you? What do you want?” they feel comfortable answering her. They feel comfortable going to her.
“We’ll have these professional development meetings where Ms. A will tell us about the sorts of things that the parents want and then we all come together and we say “If we don’t have it and the district can’t supply it, how do we get it?” Well we go on donorschoose.org and we beg our hearts out. All the teachers have accounts on donorschoose, you go on donorschoose and you make this account and you ask for people to donate to your account. Like for me I wanted to get yoga balls. I have kids with ADD or ADHD and they can’t concentrate, we can’t afford yoga balls, so I wrote up for them on donorschoose and they bought them for us. If we think of anything that the kids need that we can’t afford out of our own pocket then we put it up on donorschoose.
“We pay out of our own pockets for composition books, folders, crayons, pencils. A lot of our parents can’t afford those things. Can you imagine the humiliation of starting school without supplies because you couldn’t afford it? We need our kids to have composition books and folders. We put them out on our desks so that students aren’t ashamed to come over and ask us for them.”