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The Power of Community

Erin Doolittle

Frederick County Teacher of the Year, 2015

My school is a truly special place.  We have the privilege to educate a population where more than 55% speak a language other than English at home and where more than 90% qualify for Free and Reduced Meals.  It can be a challenge, but most of all it is incredibly rewarding. Our school does a lot to encourage families to be involved in their child’s education right from the start and we often wonder about the effectiveness of our programs and outreach.   

Today I want to share the story of how we empower parents and create children who enter school ready to learn.  Several years ago, I had a student in my kindergarten class who entered school never having spoken English. “Jose” had few readiness skills and struggled to adjust to school.  I met with his mother and encouraged her to attend some of our school’s parent education nights. She was reluctant to become involved, having limited English and low academic skills herself.  I continued to encourage her and invited her every time to events that I thought she might be interested in.

Finally, one evening she came.  I was providing childcare this evening, watching younger siblings so parents and kindergarteners could work together without being distracted.    Jose’s mother dropped off his baby sister, “Rosi”, in the childcare room. That evening, I held Rosi for an hour and a half while she cried and cried.  Her mother and Jose, however, had a wonderful time at the family event. They began to come to every event that the school offered, literacy nights, play groups, story hour, and parent education nights.  Mom began to attend English classes and brought Rosi to the accompanying early childhood classroom. Mom learned skills that she could help the children with at home to build literacy and numeracy skills as well as language skills.  Four years later, Rosi proudly walked into my Pre-K classroom on the first day of school and said, “I’m Rosi and I am ready for school.” And ready she was—She knew many of her letters, could count to 10, and was able to write her name.  She knew how to participate in group activities and had the social skills to work with other students. She learned all of these skills because her mother was willing to take that first scary step and attend a school program.

Teachers and schools often wonder how impactful the programs and resources they offer are.  This story proves that we are making a difference every day.