Curtis Nash begins his day at 6:30 a.m., ringing the doorbell of a student who has been having trouble getting to school on time. “Mr. Nash is here,” a mother calls to her teenager, “Wake up, it’s time for school.” By 6:45, Nash and his young friend are on their way to another friend’s house. When they arrive to school, on time, the group has grown to five students, whom Nash calls, “The Fabulous Five.”
Having spent eight years in urban education, most recently on the south side of Chicago as a clinical social worker, Nash is no stranger to the myriad of reasons students miss school. “The key is finding ways to keep them engaged and accountable,” he says. Schools can’t do it alone. Parents can’t do it alone. Nash explains, “We need to enlist our communities – the barber shop, the CVS, the corner store – in a partnership to support our kids.”
This focus on community engagement, known as the Community School Model, is transforming urban education across the country. Nash joined the E.L. Haynes Wellness Team this fall, thanks to funding from OSSE’s Community Schools Incentive Initiative, to establish a Community School partnership with E.L. Haynes’ neighborhood ally, Mary’s Center.
Founded in 1988, Mary’s Center is a Federally Qualified Health Center that provides comprehensive health care, family literacy, and social services to the entire DC metropolitan region, including individuals from over 110 countries. Tania Hindert, Senior Director of Program Services at Mary’s Center, explains that the partnership between E.L. Haynes and Mary’s Center has evolved over several years. Funding from OSSE has allowed both organizations to deepen our services to families.
As part of this initiative, Mary’s Center hired Carmelita Naves to coordinate wrap-around services for E.L. Haynes families – ranging from comprehensive health and dental treatment to positive parenting workshops. Naves, a clinical social worker and former Family Engagement Coordinator at E.L. Haynes, is working hard to develop a rapport with families.
“Establishing trust is critical,” Naves reflects, continuing, “Many families need help, but few feel comfortable asking for it.” For instance, some of our students do not receive regular health or dental care. Since October, Naves has referred more than 100 families to Mary’s Center for treatment and the Mary’s Center Dental Bus now makes regular visits to E.L. Haynes’ two campuses.To help parents view E.L. Haynes as a trusted resource, Naves also organizes parenting workshops and programs.
Nash and Naves believe that such community engagement efforts will build stronger families, schools, and neighborhoods. But this comprehensive approach takes time, Naves cautions, noting that she is working with the Coalition for Community Schools, a national organization, to advocate for the continuation and expansion of this initiative. “We are just scratching the surface,” says Naves. “There is still so much to do.”
Published by E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, Spring 2014