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Early in the 2019-20 school year, Christina Tinoco, Community School Coordinator at Northwest Elementary School, was asked by school administration to interpret a phone call home into Spanish. New 4th grader, Jesus, was in the office due to conduct write-ups from his homeroom teacher. Christina introduced herself and explained her role on the phone to Jesus’s mom.
As a Community School Coordinator, Christina acts as a bridge between families and teachers to help students navigate challenges at school and barriers to learning. She is bilingual and trained to support students through one-on-one intervention, targeted small groups, and general services available school-wide.
During their conversation, Jesus’s mom explained that the family had just arrived from the Dominican Republic, and she feared her son’s behavior was the result of such a hard transition. Jesus expressed to his mom that the difficulties he was facing were due to the language barrier in the classroom, which then led to miscommunications amongst his teacher and peers. Christina assured them both that she would help Jesus by setting a plan and goals to improve success in school.
Not only did Christina create a plan to support Jesus as he adjusted to his new school environment, but she also provided support for the family to facilitate English learning and help them as they navigated their transition. She connected Jesus’s mom to the Family Literacy/ESL classes being piloted for the first time by the school counselor.
To make these interventions possible, United Way of Lebanon County invested $120,000 in the first Community School project in Lebanon County. The Community Schools program in Lebanon County is being piloted in the Lebanon School District at Northwest Elementary and Lebanon Middle School with the hope of expanding to other school districts in the coming years. The program is managed by Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania (CISPA), a nonprofit that specializes in integrated community school programs. United Way’s investment supports two Community School Coordinators, Christina Tinoco and Guillermo Barroso, who were hired by CISPA to help address barriers to education and ensure that children, like Jesus, have access to the resources they need to succeed at school.
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.
Jesus was struggling to adapt to a new culture and language, which caused frustrations and manifested as a behavior issue. Instead of ignoring the underlying issues that cause these problems, Community School Coordinators rely on open communication with families in their native language to build trust between parents and schools and provide targeted interventions that address the root cause of the problem.
Jesus’s mom built a connection with Christina, and she would stop by her office to receive updates on Jesus. She confided in her about Jesus’s challenging past in the Dominican Republic. Once he received the support he needed, Jesus’s conduct and grades improved tremendously. The family is grateful for their relationship with Christina and support she’s provided. With Christina’s help, the family has made new connections with other families at the school and have fully integrated into the Lebanon community.
For students in Lebanon County, barriers to learning are greater than ever. COVID-19 has caused school shutdowns, increased hybrid learning and difficult adjustments for teachers, students and families.
When schools went virtual, many of the supports and interventions of The Community Schools program went virtual as well. The needs of families and students also changed. More parents needed technical assistance navigating the digital platforms that students were using to complete their coursework from home.
Through the Community Schools program, over 250 Spanish Speaking parents were connected via telephone for technical assistance navigating the school’s online learning platform. The Community School Coordinator made phone calls in Spanish on behalf of Northwest Elementary School Psychologist, Occupational Therapist and Speech Language Therapist to schedule evaluations and therapy appointments on Zoom.
Targeted small group programs also continued virtually to provide boys and girls with a safe place to connect with their peers while isolating at home and discuss topics such as self-esteem, kindness and positivity.
The school also continues to offer its Power Packs program to provide families with food to sustain them over the weekend when children do not receive meals at school.
These programs and interventions have helped children to stay connected and engaged during a very difficult school year.
Check out this video of Christina talking about her work at Northwest Elementary School.
To help support local children like Jesus, donate to United Way of Lebanon County. Support for our social services are critical during this time of crisis. Your gift to United Way supports early education, youth development, adult and family stability, and basic needs like healthcare and housing for our local neighbors in need.