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The way schools care about children is reflected in the way schools care about the children’s families. . . .If educators view students as children, they are likely to see both the family and the community as partners with the school in children’s education and development. Dr. Joyce L. Epstein

Professor of Education and Sociology and Director, Center on School Family and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools, Johns Hopkins University

by Shelley Guerra

In the bygone days of our ancestors, communities tended to be linked to a particular location with physical boundaries, such as the town in which we were born or the neighborhood where we grew up. In today’s interconnected world, the boundaries of our communities aren’t always clear, and are increasingly reflections of our values, interests, and aspirations for the future as opposed to the places from which we came. Despite this evolution of community from a passive fact to an active choice, some things never change: Being part of a community makes us feel accepted and well-known, basic human needs.  Within a community, we have the opportunity to form supportive relationships based on trust, shared values and common experiences. As a parent, one of the most important communities we will ever choose is our child’s school.

 

“These Are My People!”

When you evaluate schools for your child, you’re not just considering that child’s educational experience. You are also considering your family’s social and emotional experience: Will our family fit in here? Do others share our family’s values? Does the school have programs in place that foster connections among faculty and staff, families and administrators? Will my ideas and feedback be welcomed? A good-on-paper school may check all the boxes when it comes to curriculum, size, support programs and extracurricular activities, but if you and your family aren’t engaging with the school community on a regular basis, it will ultimately affect your child’s educational experience.

When my son started at the Magellan International School in preschool at age 3, my involvement was limited to his classroom and activities. I was comfortable speaking with his teachers about his progress and challenges, and I always felt my concerns and opinions were heard and valued. I volunteered in his classroom on occasion and signed up to chaperone a field trip or two. Establishing those social connections with his peers, teachers and preschool staff strengthened my husband’s and my commitment to the school community and its vision, and I have continued to build on that every year. Today our son is a second-grader and our daughter is in Kinder. I am a member of the parent association board and involved in a number of initiatives. Our family felt “at home” at Magellan from the beginning, but we initially engaged on a level with which we were comfortable. When starting at a new school, start where you are and build from there.

Social Capital and Positive Outcomes in School Communities

In schools where social capital is high, trust, motivation and collaboration thrive. The relational quality among teachers, students, families, staff and administrators cannot be underestimated—it is critical to a healthy school culture and makes future growth and attainment of mutually agreed upon goals possible. Studies show that children in schools with a strong sense of community and high level of parent engagement are more likely to be academically motivated. In addition, within such an environment, students are shaped by the community’s values and norms of behavior and act accordingly. 

Social capital (def) – those tangible substances that count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit… L.J. Hanifan

author & educational researcher

The values of our children’s school are not only part of school culture, they are built into the curriculum. As an IB World School, Magellan fosters learners who are Inquirers, Thinkers, Communicators, Risk-takers, Knowledgeable, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Balanced and Reflective. These qualities of the IB Learner Profile are essential for global citizens of good character to succeed in a rapidly changing and competitive world. Facilitating the connection between the IB curriculum, the school culture and the real world through home learning experiences and independent investigations, and by inviting parents into the classroom to share their expertise or interests are just a few of the ways Magellan builds community with its families.

Community Building Opportunities Knock

Members of our school community live in all parts of the Greater Austin, TX area, practice a wide range of religions, speak a multitude of languages, represent a variety of cultures, occupations and countries of origin, and come from different socio-economic backgrounds. At first glance, this diversity may not appear to be conducive to a cohesive school community. But look beyond the surface of any community, and you will find that its members share more similarities than differences. Diversity adds richness and depth to a community that our grandparents could never have dreamed of. And when we create opportunities for interaction and collegiality, we open the door for discovery of additional similarities and points of connection and appreciation that create the deeper bonds that make a school community resilient and powerful.

Having spaces, programs and structures in place that bring people together is critical to building social capital, promoting inclusiveness and sparking innovations within a school.  There is a wealth of talent, skills and knowledge concealed within the members of any given group. An informal conversation among parents on the playground after school, for example, may lead eventually to an enhancement to the after school program. Having a relaxing space outside of the classroom or hosting a professional event where teachers can support each other and discuss the nature of their work may catalyze creative problem-solving or elicit a deserved pat on the back from a colleague. Community service events, special programs and other cultural activities are also great opportunities to strengthen connections among the discrete groups in a school. Our school’s parent association supports and/or sponsors many community-building events, activities and initiatives throughout the year in collaboration with the school’s administration, including International Festival, Teacher Appreciation, Coats for Kids, First Friday Coffees and monthly Movie/Game Nights. 

Finding Your School Community

Proverbial wisdom maintains that strength and safety are in numbers. That may be true in some situations. However, the strength and safety within a school community has nothing to do with size but is generated from the positive relationships of the people within it.  When educators and parents work together to prepare our future entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists, educators, artists, journalists and philanthropists to be the best they can be so they can make the world a better place, there is power in that. When teachers trust their administrators enough to open up about their struggles, that’s a sign they feel safe. Students who feel supported and cared for by their teachers are more willing to share their thoughts and ideas and risk failing—the emotional equivalent of a Trust Fall—that’s a show of strength and courage. 

Remember: Find YOUR community, one that reflects the values and the experiences that you feel are important for your child in the classroom and for you as a parent. Learn about how parents are involved, feedback is received and given, and values are integrated into the school experience. We took time to find our “home away from home” at Magellan International School where our children thrive and other parents reflect our values, and our family couldn’t be happier.

Shelley Guerra

Shelley Guerra

VP, Communications, Magellan International School Parent Association

Shelley Guerra is serving her second term as  Vice President for Communications for Magellan’s Parent Association, but most importantly, she is mom to two students at Magellan. Shelley was raised in Dallas and lives in Austin with her family.

About Magellan International School:

Magellan International School is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, serving students from age 3 through 8th grade in Austin, Texas. In addition to robust IB academic curricula and unique design + making learning opportunities, students spend the day immersed in Spanish as the language of instruction and begin learning Mandarin Chinese in 3rd grade.