Community School Alliance Meetings
Austin Voices holds dozens of school and community events and meetings monthly, including five “Community School Alliance” lunch meetings that bring together 25-40 community partners to plan around supporting a group of schools. Monthly meetings are at Burnet, Dobie, Eastside Memorial, Lanier and Webb (St. John). AVEY has also begun bi-monthly meetings in Dallas (John Neely Bryan Elementary) and El Paso (Guillen Middle School).
Comic Con Boy’s Youth Leadership Summit
In Spring 2016, the Burnet Family Resource Center sponsored Burnet’s first Girls Leadership Summit. It was such a success that the school asked for a boys version, which developed into Burnet’s first “Comic Con.” On Saturday, November 12th, over 100 young men from Burnet spent their Saturday enjoying youth leadership workshops, games, activities and comics. The event was led by AVEY staff Yeraldin Yordi (FRC Director) and Kellen Begin (Burnet Community School Coordinator).
AVEY Opens Three New Food Pantries
In collaboration with the Central Texas Food Bank, Austin Voices has opened three food pantries at its Burnet, Dobie and Webb Family Resource Centers. Each food pantry gives out refrigerated and non-perishable foods, as well as fresh produce. Families using the food bank are also connected to other resources, including housing, employment, utility assistance and access to healthcare. Volunteer groups, including local churches and businesses, have added additional food through food drives. At Dobie Middle School, an Eagle Scout project helped with shelf construction and stocking the pantry.
Barrington Elementary School Goes Green
Barrington Elementary School, a new AVEY community school in 2015-16, has made it a priority to “go green” this school year. The year started with a campus beautification and garden day on September 24th. Over 50 teachers, students and community members helped get the garden ready for late season planting and to clean up the space designated for Barrington’s outdoor classroom. Kudos to Barrington staff member Vivian Perez ho took the lead on organizing the event. Vivian connected the clean up to the National Green Apple Day of Service and was able to garner over $200 in donations of plants and garden supplies. Ms. Perez continues to volunteer her time maintaining the garden through the off-season.
Also, Austin’s Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative has chosen Barrington Elementary as the Pilot School for its Green School Park initiative! As a campus that is part of the City and District joint use agreement, Barrington will receive $10,000 in funding to support a transformation of the Schoolyard into a welcoming green space where students and the surrounding neighborhoods can learn and explore. Much of the impetus for choosing Barrington hinged upon the impressive enthusiasm and turnout of its faculty and staff. Barrington’s Community School Plan includes elements that align seamlessly with the Connecting Children with Nature Initiative, such as its goals to increase its focus on health and wellness and hands-on learning and to encourage a connection between out of school time learning (after school and at home) and what is being taught in the classroom. In the coming months, Barrington’s Community School Planning team will form a subcommittee of parents, students and community members to shape the vision for the campus. Potential projects include a natural playscape, jogging trail and educational mural as the backdrop for its outdoor classroom.
T.A. Brown Elementary at the Allan Center
Just a month before Christmas, T.A. Brown faced heartbreaking news: due to structural issues with its much-beloved building, it would be forced to move out and relocate to the Allan Center (with Pre-K and Kinder students at Reilly Elementary). While extremely difficult for students, parents, and staff, the move did bring out the best in the Brown community, with lots of volunteers, including teachers from the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team, stepping up to set up a new school in just a few days. In its role supporting T.A. Brown’s community school initiative, and as the project director for the Allan Center, Austin Voices has provided support through staff volunteers, a meal for Brown faculty, and helping with connections between the early childhood and STEM partners at Allan with the T.A. Brown. Kudos to Principal Veronica Sharp and her amazing team for their incredible efforts to make sure that their students stay on track during this transition. Though the location may have changed, T. A. Brown is still the “Best School in Town that is College Bound!”
Helping Adults Learn to Read . . . in Spanish
While we think about helping adults learn English, what happens when they haven’t had the opportunity to learn to read their first language? That gap is addressed through a partnership between AVEY and the Mexican Consulate called “Plazas Comunitarias.” Plazas helps students who were not able to finish their elementary or middle school education with online courses using actual curriculum from Mexican schools, with a teacher working alongside. Starting September 13, Austin Voices staff member Evangeline Herring (an experienced math teacher at Anderson High School and a native of Puerto Rico) welcomed her first student. Evangeline says, “Our first student, a 56 year old woman, said that one of the desires of her life was to get an education. Circumstances didn’t allow for that to happen. She only knew how to recognize and write the alphabet. After a month in the program, she began to read in Spanish. The joy she gets from reading is contagious! Right now, the program has six students, all at different levels of learning. Each of them gets so excited when they learn something new. The excitement is not just for themselves, but because they feel they can help their own school-age children.”
Save Texas Schools in the Leg
Save Texas Schools, Austin Voices’ statewide program to support public education, is getting ready for the 2017 legislative session. Started in 2009, Save Texas Schools has seen several pieces of legislation pass that support our most at-risk students and schools, as well as mobilized over 30,000 Texans through rallies and other events. In 2015, STS held a statewide rally, as well as held rallies and conferences in several other cities. STS developed legislation to support community schools that made it through the House, and passed unanimously through the Senate Education Committee. While stopped at the 11th hour, the legislation did change the conversation around what school improvement solutions are really effective, especially for at-risk schools and communities. Language from the bills also made it into the school accountability legislation, promoting community-based solutions for struggling schools.
Save Texas Schools will again be working with a wide array of education advocates and organizations to promote community school legislation, and will continue to push for increased (and equitable) public school funding, rational alternatives to over-testing students, and other legislation that helps reduce barriers to learning for all Texas children. Event details, including rallies, are still being finalized. Up-to-date news can be found at Save Texas Schools Facebook page or its website, savetexasschools.org.