www.gae.org | 13 Jarrod Foster is one of the reasons why. He’s McClarin’s health and physical education teacher. He’s also an advisor, mentor and basketball coach. Students call him Coach Dad. Foster says he understands the extreme circumstances McClarin students are facing because he grew up in the projects of Detroit. “You can’t immediately jump at them. You have to build a rapport,” Foster said. “I always ask each one how was your night last night? Did you eat last night? I can gauge how their mood is.” Some students might feel demoralized by their hygiene while others are suffering from traumatic violence. One female student lost her best friend who was killed in a gang shooting. “She wanted to quit. I worked with her. You’re not going to quit. You’re going to graduate. Put her picture in your pocket so she’s with you wherever you go,” Foster said. This year, in her speech to McClarin graduates, the student specifically called out Foster for helping her graduate. “They use me as references for jobs. I just make sure I do what I can,” he said. “They have eight more hours after the bell rings. I know the only time they get structure and care is when they are here. I’m a spiritual guy. I pray for them.” Woodley says she never stops singing the praises of her dream team because of these transformative stories. “I celebrate them like crazy. I let the staff know how much I appreciate them,” she said, adding that they look for creative ways to combat staff burnout with massages and mental health Mondays. When enrollment at McClarin’s career and technical education pathways suffered a lack of participants the team looked to students for answers. They discovered that structuring classes around innovative technology and relevant job training for community employers was off the mark. They revamped their course offerings to include classes in graphic arts and gaming technologies. They also built up a career pathway to the hospitality industry, where future jobs awaited. The opportunities for community partnerships are sometimes simple fixes. Melissa Lewis is McClarin’s science teacher, cheering coach and a mentor. It’s her first year at McClarin. “You listen to the kids to see what their needs are and get out into the community to help you get that going,” she said. Her students were concerned about dressing for job interviews. Lewis was working at Macy’s and reached out to managers to come talk to her students about how to dress for success. “How do you take one outfit and make three different looks out of it? There’s a great depth of resources you can go to get. It has created a presence of pride. I’m making a difference,” Lewis said. Students and teachers are each asked to defend their data and portfolios every nine weeks so students bring ownership to their education. Students are asked to lead conferences and present their results. They identify what’s working and not working. Parents or adult mentors are invited to attend their presentations. The result is higher parent engagement. Parents no longer shrink when the school calls home because they are finally getting positive feedback about their children and loved ones. Involvement has soared: 60 percent of the students now have a parent or family member attend their student-led conference. “Parents are use to hearing negative stuff,” said Woodley. “This experience has changed the parent engagement experience.” Woodley is clearly a standout. She is an accomplished educator and author. She holds eight degrees, including a masters in education and a doctorate in counseling and psychology. As a teen mother, she grew up in Alabama and was raised by her grandmother. She still has a photo of herself as a teen mother at McClarin’s onsite childcare from 20 years ago. It’s a treasured benchmark of what’s possible for every student. It makes each student’s journey personal. She sees the school as an intensive care unit that triages the toughest cases in education. But she remains inspired and undaunted because of her personal journey that has come full circle back to her roots. Dr. Sid Chapman is the President of the Georgia’s Association of Educators. He believes the communityschools model will reform the state’s intervention model over the long haul. Chapman notes, “McClarin showcases the power of the community school model. When you engage community leaders, parents and educators collectively, we transform the lives of students, families and communities. It’s our strongest return on investment because everybody wins.” Woodley agrees. “We give students the opportunity to reset the button. We don’t have a lot of fights. We teach them how to deal with conflict,” she said. “They know when they come to McClarin they are going to have people who care about them. We don’t care about your situation or about your previous schools. We truly believe in our motto: that success is the only option.” We truly believe in our motto: that success is the only option.
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