Students at risk of getting left behind because of too many absences have a new ally at Apollo Middle School in Hollywood.
Her work starts with keeping a watchful eye on the faces streaming into school each morning. Then she takes a close look at the daily attendance roll.
Who is missing again? Who is falling further behind because they aren’t here?
Begaina Lopez, the school’s new community liaison, finds out why certain desks too often stay empty.
She is one of the new community liaisons hired at local middle schools – thanks to the Community Foundation of Broward’s groundbreaking partnership with Broward County Public Schools to help struggling sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
“We wear different hats – the counselor, the mentor. We fix whatever we have to fix so the child can learn,” said “Ms. Lopez,” as she is known to students. “You never know what the day will bring. I enjoy helping people.”
Ms. Lopez’s daily routine includes calling parents, grandparents and other caregivers to find out why a child keeps missing school. If the calls go unanswered, she goes to the child’s home – knocking on doors to learn what’s getting in the way of a student getting an education.
Her visits often take her into pockets of extreme poverty, where the reasons for student absenteeism can run much deeper than a child playing hooky. Whatever the reasons, Ms. Lopez tries to help.
When she found a student sleeping on the floor because the child’s family couldn’t afford a bed, she helped get them a donated mattress and box springs.
When she found a student living in a home without working plumbing, she helped put the family in touch with community services to get them back on track.
And for single mothers struggling to afford school lunches or grandparents struggling to help with homework, she connects them to programs for free meals and tutoring.
Her ability to speak Spanish has bridged the gap with immigrant families reticent to ask for help.
And her childhood memories of spending time in foster care – of having to wear shoes with a hole in the toe – inspire her to take extra steps that give struggling students a chance to succeed.
“I know what they are going through,” Ms. Lopez said. “I just try to help them.”
This new student outreach is an example of innovation fueled by the Community Foundation’s largest ever grant – $3 million spread over three years – that is being matched by the school district to improve local middle schools.
Research shows that middle school is a pivot point where students who fall behind academically can end up in a downward spiral that leads to dropping out. Our 10 Issues That Matter most to Broward’s future include boosting graduation rates through philanthropy we call School is Cool.
Fundholders’ support for School is Cool has enabled this historic partnership. And pooling the support of more than 30 charitable Funds at the Foundation empowers these Fundholders to accomplish so much more than they could achieve through individual philanthropy.
Their support has launched a pilot program that allows 10 schools to hire community liaisons and other student support personnel to work with students most in need of extra help. This partnership also pays to train teachers in new techniques to lift up struggling students. If successful, the school district plans to expand the program to students in all 45 middle schools.
At Apollo Middle School, Ms. Lopez is an example of how this investment in education has already begun to change lives.
“She’s getting kids here. She’s getting help for parents. When she sees a situation, she is able to address it,” Apollo Middle School, Principal Shawn Aycock said. “There was not a Ms. Lopez before this grant. There were children who fell through the cracks.”