When you think about volunteering, you may think about helping out at an event occasionally or chaperoning a class trip. At Dr. Ethel Allen School in North Philadelphia, however, you can find a group of dedicated volunteers who come to the school to give their time, energy, and efforts every single day. The school’s family engagement room houses resources for the community and is literally staffed full-time by numerous parent and family volunteers. Mr. John Paul Roskos, principal at Dr. Ethel Allen School explains that, “what is very special here is that we have everyday relationships that are occurring.” Principal Roskos has been able to communicate with families about what has worked and not worked in the past in order to turn around and change systems with families. He values the feedback of these families because it has helped him strategically plan how to provide students and families with the most necessary resources. Because many parents spend time at the school so regularly, there has been time for many deeper relationships to form, between school staff and families but also between families themselves.
Principal Roskos says, “Families are always there to pitch in and lend a hand…there are always at least 2-3 people who are there to help me.” Parents will help take care of large events or everyday tasks surrounding school climate or lending a hand in the front office. Ms. Carletta Robinson, a long-time School Advisory Council (SAC) member and part of Dr. Ethel Allen’s leadership team says, “One of the things that makes us stand out is that we’re here every single day…We combine our school community with our surrounding communities to provide services to them.”
Many of the parents who frequent the school to volunteer have seen the benefits of coming to the school regularly. One of the benefits is that these parents can provide support for students. Parent Rashika Johnson says, “We…have rapport with students in the building.” Another parent Audrey Stevens says, “The children know that they can come in this resource room if they need support.” Sometimes students will drop into the resource room just to chat with parents who they have seen regularly. Because of the consistency of their presence, these parents are people who many students have grown to trust and turn to. These volunteers are also consistently willing to help teachers. Oftentimes, teachers will call when they need help with tasks or need a hand with something in the classroom, and any of the available parents will rush to help the teachers. Sometimes these parents will also fill in as field trip chaperones if teachers need more assistance.
Many of the consistent volunteers at Dr. Ethel Allen are a part of the school’s SAC. In this past year, Dr. Ethel Allen’s SAC has been working hard to provide parents with resources to take home especially at the end of the year so that students do not fall into a “summer slide” and lose what they have learned during the school year. The SAC team is the primary team that helps plan big events such as ‘Pictures with Santa’ during the holiday. Because many families do not have the means to drive a long way to the mall, the SAC members take pictures of each child to put in frames and then gift to their families. The SAC also helps with Back to School Night, school-wide pictures for students, a parent appreciation event, a Mother’s Day event, and Fun Day at the end of the school year. The SAC focuses on trying to provide material resources for families: caps and gowns for students at graduation, backpacks, Thanksgiving baskets, produce through Philabundance and the Eat Right Philly program, and lightbulbs and household items. The SAC also helps to plan workshops for families like cooking and nutrition classes, workshops to help with volunteer clearances, teaching how to recognize different offenders that one might see and how to protect children, and more.
As much as the SAC at Dr. Ethel Allen does, nobody is ever left to do things by himself or herself. The closely-knit bonds and relationships that have formed amongst these consistent volunteers at Dr. Ethel Allen provides a stable layer of support at the school. Ms. Rashika Johnson says that the school is a “home away from home; it’s like a family.” Because of the consistency of these parents’ attendance at the school, they have grown to know one another well and support each other in many ways. Ms. Audrey Stevens says that she “knew that the parents here at the school would be able to look out for her.” Many parents have been able to find things that they are good at and use their skills to help the school.
Family presence at Dr. Ethel Allen and family engagement has increasingly grown stronger over the years. Principal Roskos has been intentional to outreach to families more effectively, and he has even greater hopes for family engagement in the future. Moving forward, Principal Roskos wants to open up a book study workshop for parents to provide tools for efficient and effective parenting strategies. Using the book Parenting with Love and Logic, Principal Roskos wants to provide opportunities for parents to help assist their students on their educational journeys. He would even love to invite the author in to teach the parents how to best support their children in the early child developmental stages. Principal Roskos also envisions using technology more effectively so that communication about meetings and events would go out to family members way ahead of time so that nobody has to scramble last minute. He wants to plan these forms of communicating strategically with families so that it can reach the most number of parents and students.
Principal Roskos says, “The support and reinforcement from home is crucial for a child’s growth.” One can see how much he values the feedback and opinions of his students’ parents. Principal Roskos says that oftentimes parents are apprehensive to come to administrators about ideas, but he wants his vision for the school to incorporate the desires of his families. He says, “I want to encourage parents to come see the principal in order to talk about resources and exchange good ideas too rather than just address negative behavioral issues.” The parents at Dr. Ethel Allen have been able to collaborate with Principal Roskos to give him their feedback, opinions, and ideas. Parent Nadean Sutton says, “Don’t shy away. We all don’t know. Ask.” Ms. Audrey Stevens says, “Come join us; you’ll get closer to your child, your child’s teacher, and to the school community.” And Ms. Robinson says, “We want to invite every parent to come into the parent room.” At Dr. Ethel Allen, we can see the ways that parents have taken this open invitation to heart and the power of this consistent family presence has led to stronger relationships, deeper connections, and more support for all parties.