Tell us about your community school. How has the community school strategy impacted your students, families, and community?
Our campus serves as both a community hub and a gateway to resources for children and families. The community school strategy is the vehicle which allows us to bring marginalized children, families, and communities to center, promoting equity, access, and uplift for all. For almost 24 years, we have served Washington Heights and neighboring communities by helping students access the best of themselves. The barriers to learning for low-income children often seem insurmountable but when you peel away the layers of challenges and struggle, there are still people with dreams and gifts buried there. Our impact has been in nurturing those dreams and gifts, and building a strong community to support them.
Why do you do what you do?
After working at the intersection of global arts and culture, youth development, and social justice for over 15 years, I decided that I wanted to be rooted in a physical place (a geographic community rather than an ideological one) and invest in children, youth, and communities as a servant leader grounded in social justice. Community schools are a holistic approach to education justice that allow my team and me to tackle the systemic barriers to education access, by having our feet and hands on the ground. I do this work because I want to help build a better future for low-income children of color, and all children forced into the margins of our society.
What is the most rewarding part about being a coordinator?
The most rewarding part of being a community school director is being able to leverage relationships and resources to ensure that our students and families have what they need to succeed. The plagues of poverty across this country have real people attached to them. As a community school director, I get to help our students, families, and other stakeholders mine the assets that will make learning- and healthier living- possible. I also appreciate the trust and collaboration of our families and school leaders, and the opportunity to serve as an advocate for my school community.
Can you tell me a story about a student, family, or community that you directly impacted as a coordinator?
My first year as a Director, I encountered a family who was evicted just a few days before Christmas. and I spent Christmas eve in my office with the mother trying to secure an emergency grant to cover clothing, food, and other critical items. The family ended up having a two-year long relationship with my office, as we navigated housing and care management for a complex of health and mental health issues. Whenever she found herself in extreme crisis, she would find her way to us. During her daughter’s last year in our school, the young mother passed away due to health complications. A few months before, she visited me with a card and an elephant statue for “good luck”. She joked, as always, that when she won the lottery, she would set up a bank account so that I never had to work another day in my life. That was always her promise. She expressed her gratitude and told me that in all of her years dealing with a range of social service and health agencies, no one had ever listened to her like I did. I still have her card, elephant, and most importantly, the echo of her message: the importance of listening to our children and families.
What are your biggest challenges?
As a campus director, I have to manage a multiple principals and administrative teams. While the school profiles are similar, the schools have different cultures which are often challenging to align within the scope of our unified programming. That said, it is a great task, and point of celebration, when we are able to actively engage the entire community in a way that promotes unity, cooperation, and collaboration. Serving as a bridge is an arduous but worthwhile- and meaningful- undertaking.
What is one thing you want to accomplish by the end of the school year?
There isn’t a single thing. Our work lives on a continuum. My goal is that we continue to grow and explore new angles and opportunities for growth, and that we continue to expand our sphere of influence in the school and local community.
What's on piece of advice you would give to other coordinators?
Find your “sweet spot” in the work and nurture that which drives and motivates it. There should be at least one thing that you do really well and enjoy, which can keep you inspired and help you to motivate others. There will always be challenges and barriers to overcome but honing your skills and cultivating at least one area where you can flourish is important for long term efficacy and resilience.