The Getting Patrick Henry Connected Initiative has taught us that being “connected” means so much more than internet access. Closing the digital divide requires us to closely examine the inequities that created it. When HOME WORKS! committed to doing everything possible to ensure success for Patrick Henry students, teachers, and families we weren’t sure what it was going to take. We have learned that “Getting Connected” also means facilitating connections between school and community. With HOME WORKS! as the catalyst, Patrick Henry has gotten connected to relationships and resources that will positively impact the school community long after this school year.
Last month, HOME WORKS! brokered a meeting between principal Dr. Deborah Rogers and Police Captain Feig and Community Liaison Officer Mary Edmond. The meeting uncovered the school and the police department have many shared goals. Taking a walk outside, through the neighborhood where the majority of the 180 families who attend Patrick Henry live, it quickly became evident just how much both the school and the police department had to offer each other. A safe environment around the school is critical to learning – the day to day requirements of students, parents, and teachers are brought to a halt when the threat of violence appears in the neighborhood. The Police Department cannot ensure public safety without relationships, trust, and a proximate understanding of the neighborhood. Walking around the school on a fall morning, it became clear the success of the school and the success of the police department were in many ways mutually dependent.
Completing a lap around the school prompted Dr. Rogers to share what her staff and families encounter on a daily basis. Schools like Patrick Henry are responsible for much more than academics, because ensuring their students are learning often requires them to actively address issues like violence, poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. In fact, in recent months, the pandemic of gun violence seemed a more acute threat to Patrick Henry students than the COVID pandemic. Officer Edmond shared that the police department has dedicated staff to work with victims and witnesses to gun violence. This is a critical resource that was previously lacking. Patrick Henry students, families, and staff who have experienced trauma now have access to professional counseling. Captain Feig also connected Dr. Rogers with two homeless liaison officers who specialize in obtaining temporary and permanent housing for people in transition. In the weeks that followed, the Patrick Henry community was connected to critical resources to support the students, families, and staff experiencing massive barriers to success.
Last month also began in-person learning for many Patrick Henry students and teachers (see our transition to blended learning blog here). After being away from school for nearly seven months, the first day back to school was a big event for students. Unfortunately, the ‘new normal’ for students meant returning to school wearing a mask and knowing there would be no games at recess, no eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria, and no field trips. The return to school also marked an opportunity for Community Liaison Officer Edmond and her team to build relationships with students and families. On the first Friday afternoon back in-person, the St. Louis Police Department sponsored an ice cream social for Patrick Henry students and staff. It was a beautiful afternoon to enjoy ice-cream and socialize safely outside. The ice cream truck was a big hit with the students! The ice cream social represented a promising start to building stronger relationships between families and public safety officers.
Getting students, families, and teachers what they need to ensure their success is about more than the internet. The story of “Getting Patrick Henry Connected” to the St. Louis Police Department is an example of how HOME WORKS! is supporting a more equitable education for students in our region.