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
resource coordinator
they want to participate in an after school class, we are making sure that the lines of communication are open and we are letting Vera Court know, ‘Hey, we have
Disney going on. We have 20 of your scholars who are participating. What can we do to possibly make this easier for everyone?’ So we work on schedules and
homework because we want to make sure that they aren’t missing anything here. And I think it brings our community together. I think with us working with Vera
Court, our Vera Court families are able to see that it’s not a Mendota thing or a Vera Court thing. I think they are in tune with the fact that this is a partnership and they
want to work with us. Tom at Vera Court also works with us very closely. We have regular meetings scheduled to just talk about planning and the use of the building
because we are a community school. We use the building over there. We have meetings at Vera Court. We just want to make sure that we are interacting and that
we are not being spoiled and keeping Vera Court at bay and then Mendota is over here. We want to make sure that our families, scholars and staff knows that Vera
Court is a part of our community.”

Also one of the most important partners is the parents themselves and Mendota has sought to engage them in a number of ways.

“Our families are able to use their levels of expertise to share with the Mendota community,” said Carlettra Stanford, the principal. “So we have a parent who
comes in and does a Do-It-Yourself class. The scholars and their families love the class. They are always building something. And then we also have another parent
who is a screen t-shirt designer. She will come in and do t-shirts with the students.”

And the school has taken measures to welcome parents into the school, to send the message that coming to school is about more than parent-teacher conferences
or discipline.

“Sonia and Carlettra forgot to mention that one of the things that you did was designate a room, which is called the Family Resource Room,” said Nichelle Nichols,
the MMSD director of youth, family and community engagement. “They’ve put a couple of computers in there. We’ve had a CAC housing coordinator working a couple
of days per week out of this location. They’ve started a food pantry. We have taken a holistic view of the variety of needs that our families have and how we use this
school differently so that families feel that they can come in for a conference, the Family Fun Night or basic needs. We’ve become that hub for families.”
Part 2

By Jonathan Gramling

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.

Although it has received additional monetary support as a community learning center that funds a
lot of MSCR afterschool programming and special community schools funds that allowed the
school to promote Sonia Spencer as the community schools coordinator, Mendota must rely upon
outside entities to provide most of the programming that a community school implies. And the
first partner that comes to mind with the Mendota staff is the Vera Court Neighborhood Center.

“One of the great things about being a community school and having Vera Court right in our
backyard is that partnership,” Spencer said. “We do share scholars. We are able to really
communicate in regards to what is going on here. If some of our scholars are attending here and
Before being named a community school, Spencer was the parent-school liaison
that had her in the community connecting with parents, especially those whose
children were having difficulties in school. Now as the community school
coordinator, Spencer can spend her time developing programming that has been
recommended by the community school committee and finding the resources to
make it happen.

“We are very blessed to be able to have some very strong partnerships,”
Stanford said. “Their impact has been tremendous in working with us. Once we
were designated as a community school, everything went to a whole different
level. We have Door Creek Church, which is one of our main partners with our
block party. They adopt teachers. They provide volunteers and mentors throughout
the school year. They also provide us with monetary resources. We meet with
them and they ask us what our needs are. We also have Christ Presbyterian
Church, another partner. They do something called Undie Sunday where they
actually do a drive with their members and they provide necessary items for our
students like socks and underwear and t-shirts and other clothing. They also
purchased a washer and dryer for us. They also did the playground and made a
large monetary donation. They were actually doing their own playground and then
learned we were going to refurbish our playground. They decided that they would
donate 10 percent of what they raised to us. That was a big partnership with our
PTO that helped to make that happen. Sandy came in and gave vocal lessons to
our scholars who were in the musical. She donated $10,000 just to be used for
the music department. And she is just getting started. She has made the
commitment with us. Save a Circle provides healthy snacks to our scholars
every month in each classroom. They are also funding our food pantry for $15,000
this school year while also continuing the snack program.”

“Sherman Avenue Methodist Church has been hands-on in providing us whatever
we need, be it supplies, clothing, resources or volunteers,” Spencer added. “They
are going to be starting a program where they are going to be making laundry
detergent for us to keep here and to give to our families.”

Naming Mendota Elementary a Community School has fostered community
ownership that has paid off in dividends of academic achievement for the
students. It’s a win-win-win for the community.