The division’s Office of Community Engagement has recognized the impact social issues can have upon student learning and is collaborating with community agencies to expand the quality of and access to a broad range of community services to:
- Create a model program for addressing the specific culturally relevant academic and social needs of low socioeconomic families to increase their personal ownership in learning.
- Establish community partnerships for building stronger home, school and community relationships to maximize school experiences.
- Create a family engagement model for building confidence to interact and access community resources to capitalize on educational opportunities.
Among the most profoundly difficult challenges facing K-12 education today is how best to manage differences in student learning opportunities outside the classroom. As communities become more diverse, meeting the individualized needs of each student is impossible without a thoughtful, intelligent, comprehensive approach that recognizes academic achievement is not an end to be measured in answers selected by multiple choice or facts memorized for the moment. It is, instead, a pathway forward to a different goal—lifelong learning. It is this competence that ensures a student will achieve at the highest level of their potential and it fulfills among the most critical responsibilities of any prosperous and fair-minded society.
This program arose from the School Board’s commitment to close the opportunity gap for all students in our division. The objective is to insure communication, eliminate isolation and generate a plan for all students to achieve high levels of success. It is designed to address the lifelong skills and learning needs of families at the lower end of the county’s socioeconomic scale, a historically underserved population. Rapidly changing demographics in our division are contributing to the importance and urgency of developing a model program that specifically increases the engagement of Hispanic students and parents with the school community.
The target population lives in the Southwood Mobile Home Park. This at-promise community is one of our largest and most diverse communities serving over 350 K-12 students in a 247-unit mobile home park. More than eighty percent of its residents are of Mexican, Salvadoran or Honduran descent, strengthened by a strong inwardly focused community culture and with a history of limited or no involvement in their children’s school community. Southwood also is predominately low income, making it a strong candidate for a targeted program that can be replicated and expanded throughout the county to meet recent trends. For the past several years, we have seen our economically disadvantaged population, measured by students receiving free and reduced lunch support, increase by nearly 40 percent, from 19% in 2009 to 26% in 2012. During this same period, our Hispanic student population has nearly doubled and is now reaching 10 percent. In the elementary school that serves Southwood, the kindergarten class is projected to be more than 60 percent Hispanic in two years.
This program is a validation that empowering parents and communities removes barriers to learning and that an at-risk student, no different from any other student, can meet the same elevated standards of excellence. Transforming Southwood posits that student achievement is not solely dependent upon income or social status, but rather upon easily attainable and measureable strategies centered on family and community engagement. They lead to such ideas as a Study Club that matches mobile home students with college students who also serve as mentors and role models.
We are closing the opportunity gap through a systemic approach of engaging families with successful results.
- Qualitative parent surveys show an increase in parents accessing community resources. The After School Study Club has averaged 41 University of Virginia volunteers providing one-on-one academic tutoring and mentoring for grades K-7 2008 to present. Over a 6 year period, 250 students received tutoring from 212 tutors. These tutors have accumulated over 25,000 hours of volunteer time, equivalent to over $500,000.
- English language proficiency scores for ESOL students in the Division's target elementary school were three months in advance of the students in a similar Division school that currently doesn't have this extensive community programing.
- Latino student enrollment in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), requiring a 3.0 GPA in the target high school increased by 72% from 2010 to 2013.
- More than 90 percent of Southwood families participated in the 2013 Back to School Festival, which brings principals, teachers, community volunteers, School Board members and central office staff into the community. This level increased from 400 to more than 700. This program’s holistic approach extends services beyond education to include service providers from Book Baskets, the Charlottesville Free Clinic, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, the Cooperative Extension, Literacy Volunteers, Martha Jefferson Hospital Health Screening, and the local police and fire departments. Walmart has underwritten the major portion of expenses.
- Traditionally, Southwood parents have been in the shadows of their child’s learning experiences. A parent academy/advisory group was established to foster continuous improvement through their engagement with PTO functions, school cultural events, increased enrollment in GED classes, public library cards issued, college exposure with their children, and supporting their children in extra-curricular activities. Parents are utilizing community resources to their advantage because of strong advocacy connections with the Office of Community Engagement and partners. Academic and social issues that impact student learning are being addressed either proactively and or in collaboration with multiple service agencies.
- Programs, such as the following, are a part of the successful approach: Summer Reader Theater, Nutrition Workshops, Back to School Festivals, cultural sensitivity training for college tutors and division teachers, Career and College Readiness Projects, and programs that match photography and writing professionals giving students voice and identity.
- This program has expanded to two similar neighborhoods.
Ms. Gloria Rockhold, Community Engagement Manager
Albemarle County Public Schools
401 McIntire Road, Room 241
Charlottesville, VA 22902