It’s been years since I stepped into an elementary school, but almost as soon as I walk through the doors of I am overwhelmed with distinct memories of pencil sharpeners, art class and library day.
Today is field day at Mount Vernon Community School, Ms. Rosa Landeros tells me as we navigate the halls to her office upstairs. She stops to answer a question from one of the students and caringly pats another student on the shoulder. “Good morning, Ms. Landeros!” an older student calls from around the corner.
There is an excited—albeit orderly—chatter in the hallways.
“They’re very excited about Fantastic Friday,” Ms. Landeros tells me with a smile. I share with her my own memories of field day—the oversized parachute and the little bags of trail mix I can remember quite well.
This Friday morning, I am meeting with Ms. Landeros, parent liaison at Mount Vernon Community School, and Ms. Cassandra Ford, guidance counselor. They are an elementary school dream team of sorts, working closely with one another to marry the needs of the students with shifting needs of the community and families.
Their task is challenging. MVCS is a unique school—a melting pot, considering the different neighborhoods with varying demographics that feed into the school, including Del Ray and the Arlandria-Chirilagua neighborhoods. About 57 percent of the students are Hispanic, many coming from homes where their primary caregivers do not speak English. But the school’s physical location at the cross-section of Mt. Vernon and Commonwealth avenues puts it at the heartbeat of the Del Ray community. In fact, many of us in Del Ray pass through the school and rec center grounds even if we do not have children attending there, whether it is to vote or to grab dinner at nearby .
“When you put the worlds together, it is fascinating,” says Ms. Landeros as we take a seat at the round table in her office. “It brings challenges, but a lot of good things too.”
Ms. Ford joins us in the office. Right away, I can tell why she is a favorite among the students. She is pleasantly energetic and enthusiastic about MVCS and student success. A tag-line that she created—“We’re SERR-ious About Success: Safety, Effort, Respect, and Responsibility”—has become the central behavior code of the school, based on the national Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework. Indeed, the behavior code is posted on the school website and in the hallways. Students are reminded of these values no matter where they are in the school—the classroom, the gym, the cafeteria, the library.
Along with this value system, Ms. Ford established a system of “train tickets” where students earn tickets for representing one of those good behaviors. At the end of the week, students can trade tickets for items worth varying points—rubber bouncy balls, for example—or they can save them up for higher-value items.
Outside of school hours, Ms. Ford coordinates “Girls on the Run,” which takes a group of female students who meet regularly over the course of several weeks to learn about topics like self-esteem, peer pressure and nutrition, working up to a goal of a 5K buddy-run.
“When we say ‘community school,’ we actually mean it,” says Ms. Ford. “The philosophy of the people here is for the well-being of the child and the family.”
What Ms. Ford is to the students of MVCS, Ms. Landeros is to the parents and the needs of the students’ families as a whole. Because of the language barrier, many parents are not sure how to best invest in their child’s education.
“My philosophy is to empower,” says Ms. Landeros. “I’m not giving fish. I’m teaching them how to fish.”
This means she shows parents how to make a phone call on their child’s behalf or how to schedule a parent-teacher conference. She offers parenting workshops. She helps teach English language classes for the Spanish-speaking parents. Documents and school papers are sent home in English and in Spanish to give parents greater ownership over their children’s education. Ms. Landeros explains that the goal is to guide and support the students in a variety of ways—from parental support to physical needs to education—so that students are set up for success in all areas.
Ms. Landeros points me in the direction of two doors in the corner of the room. “In those closets, we keep supplies and jackets. They have been donated for students who need them. All of our students know if they need paper, they can come get it. If they need a jacket, they can come get it.”
I can hear in her voice a sincere care for the families of MVCS. And after 12 years of investment in the school, she should be proud. She tells me that she recently attended a high school graduation ceremony for a former student whose family she worked with at MVCS. Her legacy is extending to college and will soon hit the workforce.
Ms. Landeros and Ms. Ford are quick to give praise to their entire team at MVCS, including a nurse, social worker, psychologist and other staff members who meet once a week to make sure the students are set up for success in all areas.
Students recently completed Standard of Learning exams (SOLs), and Ms. Ford and Ms. Landeros excitedly share with me that a student the team works with regularly passed her SOLs in reading at the advanced level—and neither of her parents can read or write English. The value of their team approach is coming full circle, meeting their core value of success.
“Our children have multi-layered needs,” says Ms. Ford, explaining the importance of each of the roles on their team. “The resources this community provides are incredibly helpful.”
Ms. Landeros nods in agreement. “These children will be the future, so we better put good tools on their belts.”
Do you know someone who should be featured on Faces of Del Ray? Email me at jessica.mancari[AT]gmail[DOT]com.