As part of pre-planning week, teachers and staff tour Clarkston and meet with students and families at a park, where reporter Marlon A Walker joins the fun. Here is his article:
Just beyond a large shed at Clarkston’s Milam Park Wednesday morning, Chad Velde-Cabrera chases down a tennis ball after a young girl’s toss flies several feet above his head. A few feet away, a woman is having a hula-hooping contest with another young girl. Not too far away, a man is chasing several children around a playground slide.
Most of the adults are teachers and administrators from the International Community School, the children their students.
As thousands of teachers across metro Atlanta return to their classrooms this week to prepare to welcome students this coming Monday, Velde-Cabrera, ICS’ principal, decided to add something different to their efforts. This is how they’ll plan for the year ahead: going into the students’ community, getting more acquainted with the environment they leave every day to attend the Decatur school.
“A large portion of our student population lives here in Clarkston,” Velde-Cabrera said. “Half of our students are immigrants and refugees.”
The move was inspired by colleagues at DeKalb PATH Academy Charter School, who also spend part of their planning week in the community. Velde-Cabrera, who’s beginning his second year as ICS’s principal, said the staff drove around Clarkston as homes of several of the students were pointed out. It’s important his teachers have familiarity with a child’s background, he said.
Several studies point to better academic progress as a byproduct of student-teacher interactions beyond classroom lessons. An American Psychological Association study shows the positive student-teacher relationships also help the students develop more socially. At the park, teachers exited the school bus, squealing with delight as familiar faces greeted them.
“We should have more gatherings like this,” physical education teacher Dawn Jones said, noting several parents in attendance. “We’re spending all day with their children. And we’re a community school.”
Gilles Kouadio, who teaches French, said as a community school it was appropriate for them to want to build relationships with the communities where the students live. “We’re doing something different because our school is different,” he said.
Fentahun Engidaw, who has a kindergartner and a third-grader at the school, said he volunteers in classrooms or doing maintenance on his days off. When he has to be hours late to pick up his children, he said they’re always well taken care of. “I like ICS because the teacher is more than family,” he said. “They text and call me if something happens. I can be sometimes like one, two, three hours late, and they watch them for me. That’s great.”
Velde-Cabrera said he hopes the event, which also included a soccer match pitting the students against the teachers, becomes an annual thing.“We find that it’s necessary that the folks who are with the kids every day know where the kids actually live, know where they’re from, see where they shop,” he said. “This is professional development right here. And it’s community building.”
MARLON A. WALKER/ [email protected]