MMSD embraces the community
schools model with gusto
Teaching on a Community Level
Nichelle Nichols, director of family, youth and community
engagement (l-r);Carlettra Stanford, principal of Mendota
Elementary School and Sonia Spencer, community school
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
The staff at Mendota Elementary School has always felt that they needed to do more for their students and
families than the traditional public school. Located just off of Northport Drive on School Road on Madison’
s north side, it has been located in a type of “service desert” where few community services are
available outside of what the Vera Court, Kennedy Heights and Warner Park community centers offer.
Intermittently, the closest place to buy groceries has been on Aberg Avenue east of Packers Avenue.
Located on the fringe of the metropolitan area and hemmed in by Cherokee Marsh and the Yahara River,
children and families can readily become isolated from many services that they need.
In the late 1990s, Mendota Elementary School became one of Madison’s first Community Learning Centers
that allowed for expanded youth programming after the school day by Madison School Community
Recreation. But it still wasn’t enough.
the first few years of a community school. The committee is asked to rank the ones that are the most important in the first few years. And then once those are
prioritized, then the community schools coordinator works on finding partners and organizations in the community that can either provide in-kind support or can
come out and do contracted services in alignment with those priorities.”
And then through the guidance and support of the community-school committee, the principal and the community schools coordinator set out to make the action plan
“We have different resources to be able to extend our outreach to bring services into the school,” Stanford said. “By having a full-time coordinator, that piece has
been able to take the place of teachers who may have been coordinating things or the principal coordinating things. That person is solely focused bringing the
resources that are needed. Also we are able to do it in a more focused way by having the needs assessments and knowing exactly what we want and what we
need as a school and knowing our strengths as well. It’s been a more focused process, more streamlined and more partnered. And I think it has been more
impactful than having the scattered pieces that we had before.”
In the first two years, they took on homelessness and housing and out-of-school time.
“Within the past three years, we’ve focused on three areas: homelessness and housing, out-of-school time, and employment and job security,” said Sonia Spencer,
the community school coordinator. For the last two years, we’ve done a lot of work in the first two priority areas. We established a full-time food pantry here at
Mendota. We’ve been able to provide a lot of after-school activities and resources for families through the out-of-school priority.”
And now in their third year, Mendota is focusing on employment and training. At its annual block party held on August 25th in the street in front of the school and its
parking lot, the employment and training theme was in full display as the Urban League of Greater Madison and Dane County and city of Madison among other
agencies staffed employment-related booths. The block party also hooked students and families up with other resources while also celebrating the cultural diversity
of its students.
The Community School concept draws students and their families into the building for more than parent-teacher conferences or Family Fun Nights. It is ensuring that
the community learns and grows together.
“We have Open School House Night,” Spencer said. “That is every month on a Tuesday. The building is open until 7 p.m. And we bring in an array of different
resources for families and their scholars. We’ve had a cooking class. We partnered with UW-Extension and they brought in some science experiments. It’s just a
time where families can be together, eat together and just participate together. We’ve partnered with Chloe Brown who does WERQ. She’s been able to be here the
last couple of months in offering nice, healthy WERQ sessions for our families. We also have staff who come in. They do anything from coding to video graphing to
just being present and available to our families, not just during the day, but also during the evening as well. And then again, we’ve been able to offer a lot of after
school activities for our scholars. First of all, it secures their safety. They are here until 5-5:30 p.m., the same hours as MSCR. With that, we’ve partnered with the
First Tee organization. We’ve partnered with Roxie Hentz and CEOs of Tomorrow. She’s been doing an after school business/entrepreneurship club for our scholars.
We’ve partnered with Maydm. They’ve been providing our girls with tools in becoming engineers. We’ve partnered with Charles Dean’s martial arts group. We’ve
had an array of different activities where we know our scholars are not only trying something new, but they are also learning how to do different things.”
And the Community School concept has also allowed Mendota to extend its offerings into the summer months.
“This summer, a group of girls were able to continue with Maydm,” Stanford said. “With First Tee, there was a group of scholars who were able to continue to learn
how to golf. They got uniforms. They had competitions. It was something that they really enjoyed.”
Next issue: The importance of partnerships
When the Madison Metropolitan
School District decided to adopt the
Community Schools model for some
of its elementary schools, Mendota
Elementary School, under the
leadership of Principal Carlettra
Stanford jumped at the chance to
become one of two schools to pilot
the model. In essence, it gave the
school another pair of hands to bring
children and families into the building
and engage them.
“During the first year of the community
school, they do go through a needs
assessment,” said Nichelle Nichols,
MMSD’s director of family, youth and community engagement. “They look at school-level data,
other indicators that have been compiled through health assessments, neighborhood listening
sessions that have been conducted recently; they look at all of that. And they start to identify
where the big gaps are for students and families. Usually there are more than we can take on in