Birchwood staff, Eliza Court families come together at barbecue

Educators in Action

If you would have stopped by Eliza Court, a mobile home park by Bellis Fair, on a certain evening in late September, you would have found a typical end-of-summer scene. Autumn had already officially begun, but the sun was shining and children in shorts and T-shirts were out kicking a soccer ball around or riding bikes, stopping just long enough for a hot dog off the grill.

What made this evening special was the person running the grill and the 20 or more people he brought with him. Birchwood Elementary School Principal Matt Whitten and his staff held a barbecue on Sept. 27 at Eliza Court, where 54 of the school’s students live. The barbecue was open to all Birchwood families, and school staff estimated that 125 to 150 people attended.

Eliza Court is only three-quarters of a mile from Birchwood Elementary as the crow flies, but it is on the other side of Interstate 5 and two-and-a-half miles by car, bus or bicycle. The mobile home park’s residents are predominantly low-income and Latino.

Students in other parts of the Birchwood Elementary School community have an easier walk to the school. The geographic barrier between Birchwood and Eliza Court, along with the challenges posed by income levels and language differences, prompted the school to hold the barbecue.

“The students are going to be more successful when they feel more connected at school,” Whitten said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we just go to them?'”

The barbecue had one simple goal — to bring families and school staff together for food and fun.

“The kids were excited to show us their neighborhood,” Whitten said. “My impression was, people felt valued.”

Isabel Meaker, special assistant to the superintendent for family engagement, took part in the barbecue. Afterward, she applauded Birchwood Elementary for its commitment to meaningful outreach.

“Family engagement can take many different forms, but one of the most meaningful and effective ways to engage families is when the school goes to the families instead of the traditional expectation that the families need to come to the school,” Meaker said. “It was absolutely wonderful to see the faces of the students and the families while they just ‘hung out’ with the school staff and the principal. I know that those families saw the school staff in a new light and that the relationship between them deepened through that experience.”

Principal Whitten agreed and intends to continue to build relationships with students at Eliza Court and other neighborhoods in his purview.

“I feel like we really fostered relationships with people we might not have otherwise seen,” he said. “Now the trick is, how do we continue that?”


Comment (1)

  1. Ricardo Sanchez

    2 years ago

    Great i want to help next time?

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