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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    New London schools step up family engagement efforts

    New London Public Schools Family Engagement coordinator Jersahid Valencia, right, talks with parents and children during a community gathering Wednesday, October 5, 2022 at the Early Childhood Center at B.P. Mission. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Musician Steve Elci, left, plays for those attending a community gathering at the New London Public Schools Early Childhood Center at B.P. Mission Wednesday, October 5, 2022 . (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    New London Public Schools Family Engagement Coordinator Angela Rasmussen talks to Emanuel Castillo, 6, during a community gathering Wednesday, October 5, 2022 at the Early Childhood Center at B.P. Mission. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    New London ― In recent years, the city’s school system has placed an emphasis on not just involving parents, but engaging them in school events and students’ education.

    This has resulted in the creation of a fairly new role at the district: Family Engagement Coordinator. The city’s district has two hired coordinators.

    Other districts in the state and country have adopted similar family engagement programs, as research has shown that the earlier educators establish family engagement, the more effective they are in raising student performance.

    “During the COVID-19 pandemic and after we realized we need parents to work in tandem with us to ensure students’ success,” Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie said. “We partner with them as best we can and network parents with parents.”

    But what does a family engagement coordinator do?

    Born and raised in New London, Angela Rasmussen has worked in the district for 11 years for the past three years has juggled two roles as coordinator of magnet marketing and family engagement. She said she loves every aspect of her job.

    Rasmussen said her role in family engagement is ensuring the district connects with families and making sure they have the necessary resources. She said this involves planning events, making personal phone calls and home visits to families and dispelling information through different means of communication.

    “It’s not a typical schedule,” she said. “You’re planning the next event, ordering supplies and reaching out to families. It kind of changes every day. An event day is different.”

    Last year, Jersahid Valencia was hired as a full-time bilingual family engagement coordinator. Valencia moved to the city from Mexico in 2009 and worked as an English as a second language tutor in the school district for 10 years.

    Valencia said the administration saw the importance of having someone who spoke Spanish keep families informed. About 68% of the students in the district are of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.

    Last week The Day joined Valencia on a trip to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Center to get snacks for Nathan Hale Elementary School and the food pantry at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, which is free to all district families.

    Valencia echoed Rasmussen’s words about everyday being different.

    He said families call with different needs, whether it be transportation, housing, food, or to request help applying for jobs. He said when a family recently lost their home, the school district had funds to put them in a hotel for a week. He was planning to visit the family that day to bring them food.

    “I like helping families and getting to connect with them, making a difference in their lives,” Valencia said.

    Valencia said challenges that come with the job include funding and initially gaining families’ trust.

    “One would like to help more than the district can,” he said. “You see families suffering and wish you could do more.”

    Valencia added the family engagement coordinators are in communication often with different organizations including Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, New London Youth Affairs and Safe Futures.

    Rasmussen said having bilingual support has been a “game-changer.” She said Valencia doesn’t understand the impact he’s made, helping increase attendance and awareness.

    This past Wednesday, the family engagement coordinators held the first community event of the school year at the city’s Birth to Age 8 Early Childhood Resource Center on Shaw Street. Families were invited for a music-themed gathering with a free dinner, live music, free books in different languages, bike raffles and instrument-making activities for the children led by different social service agencies.

    Rasmussen said 135 families were in attendance and 50% of them had attended a prior event.

    The district co-owns the building with the city, and is set to organize another two community events during the school year. The Park and Recreation Department will do another three.

    Claudia Luma said she has lived in New London for a year and a half. Luma goes to all of the community events with her two daughters that attend Harbor Elementary School and the Early Childhood Center.

    Luma, as an immigrant from Honduras, said she has received a lot of help from the district and Valencia, adding it helps that he speaks Spanish.

    “I’m impressed by the creativity of each event,” Luma said. “It’s entertaining for the kids and they really try to make parents happy so they keep coming.”

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