Making Van Bokkelen Elementary a Community Hub
Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn, Maryland, a Title I school where more than 80 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, had become one of the worst-performing schools in the state. It was even put on the state department of education’s takeover list. What’s more, parents seemed disconnected and mistrustful of the school.
Understanding that when parents and the community are involved, students do better in school, the Van Bokkelen Elementary PTA—a group small in numbers but big on commitment—began to question why more parents were not involved. What they found was that many of the families lived in poverty and faced a daily challenge in meeting the basic needs of their families. In addition, many parents, because of their circumstances, didn’t feel they should be involved or that they were capable of making a contribution.
To help meet the needs of families, the PTA sought out community resources. Partnerships were formed with the YWCA, a community college, the American Red Cross, and the local Boys & Girls Club, to name a few. These partners helped parents obtain their GEDs, offered job-skills training, provided after-school enrichment and child-care programs, instituted a first-time homebuyers program, and even gave down-payment assistance to parents completing a financial education program—all at the school, which became the hub of the community.
Van Bokkelen Elementary School transformed completely. As families started coming to the school for these supports and services, they began to feel better about themselves and the school, resulting in greater communication with teachers, the principal, and each other. Family members were better able to provide for their children and gained the confidence in themselves to become true partners in supporting their children’s success in school. The school gained the families’ trust. And best of all, student achievement improved, with grades and test scores going up across the board.