By: Sabrina Hernandez, Policy Fellow
On September 12th, 2017, DC State Board of Education Executive Director John Paul Hayworth, Policy Analyst Maria Salciccioli, and Policy Fellow Sabrina Hernandez visited J.O.Wilson Elementary School in Ward 6 as part of the “Communities in Schools of the National’s Capital” tour. Mr. Hayworth sits on a board that awards grants to schools in the DC area, and this school had received a grant from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). This meeting was with an OSSE grant representative, as well as the organization Communities in Schools (CIS) which is working with the grant money within J.O. Wilson. The representatives of CIS were present, as well as Principal Heidi Haggerty and the site coordinators for CIS. The meeting focused on the many programs and services that CIS provides for the students and families at J.O. Wilson, with an introduction by the principal detailing the issues the school is facing, as well as initiatives that have been successful through the grant.
Principal Haggerty began by explaining how after school programs are extremely important to students and families, and it is important for public schools to have a robust after school program for families to choose the school. The principal noted that the partnerships that have been possible through the grant have helped to improve the after school experience at J.O Wilson, and specifically Kid Power has been a success. Through the grant, the school also has been able to hire a site coordinator that works through communities in schools to provide services for students in three different tiers of need, with general student population at one, more specific student groups at two, and individual students with needs at three. The principal noted how this model has been helpful in addressing the needs of the larger student population, such as food insecurity, while also providing for individual needs such as child counseling and new shoes. Some material items that have been made possible through the grant are school supplies and backpacks for housing insecure children, as well as weekend food bags from capital area food bank.
Principal Haggerty referenced the DC insight survey for school culture, and noted that the school culture has improved. One issue that the principal focused on extensively was chronic absenteeism. Ms. Haggerty is aware this is a highly concerning issue, as 100 out of 500 students are absent throughout the school year. Something that exacerbates this problem is that 74% of students live outside of the school’s boundary, making it more difficult for them to get to school on time through any weather. The principal is hoping to tackle this issue head on this year, and has an idea of setting up individual meetings with students who have missed more than 15 days to get them individual help. School culture is also affected by new students at the school, the principal noted. This year, she decided to be intentional in setting up a welcoming environment for new students who may be unsure at a new school or are naturally hyper-vigilant as a result of their home environment. She wants students to relax within the school, and not feel that they need to be on the defensive, so she had a welcoming lunch for new students where she performed a small ritual which involved giving them a medal and welcoming them to the school. She believes this will help new students identify allies within the administration and help them with their sense of safety and security.
J.O. Wilson would also like to move towards including more socio-emotional centered activities, and the grant has helped with a partnership with an organization called Connected Psychology that brings counselors to schools, where students can get individual and group therapy. Other programs and organizational partners made possible by the grant and the school’s continued dedication to holistic student support include Cultivate the Garden, AAA schools public safety patrol, Alice’s kids, EEOC mentors and VSP vision services. The school visit was a great example of how individual administrators, outside community organizations, and grants can all work together to provide services that allow student to be healthy, stable and safe in order to succeed in the classroom.