Engaged Families and Communities

A bodega in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Extra, extra! Tus noticias al día

Belgica Diaz is the clerk at Sorangel Grocery Store, a popular bodega in Reading, Pennsylvania. When she bags her customers’ groceries, she always slips in a little something extra– the latest issue of the Reading Education Association Community Newsletter.

“I do it so people will read it at home,” she says. “I want to make sure they pay attention to it.”

Diaz has kids in the Reading School District and the newsletter helps her keep up with what’s going on in the schools and offers tips for how she can get involved.

“I find it very useful,” she says, and so do her customers. That’s because the Reading Education Association takes the time to print the newsletter in English as well as in Spanish.

“The student population of the Reading School District is primarily Hispanic,” says Pennsylvania State Education Association Organizing Specialist Lorenzo Canizares, who has coordinated the writing and printing of the newsletter since it launched in 2008. “Right now, they make up about 75 percent of the student population, but five minutes later, it could be 80 percent. We’re getting new students in all the time, and the best way to help them succeed is to involve their parents.”

That’s where the newsletter comes in. Many of the articles are written by parents for parents. A regular contributor is Miriam Feliciano, Parent Teacher Association president of the Thomas H. Ford Elementary School.

“We should get involved with the committees of our school. Help the teachers in their plans. It’s the only way to get to know those that we entrust with our children eight hours a day,” Feliciano wrote in a recent story, “En La Union Esta La Fuerza” (In Unity There is Strength). “We should participate in the monthly meetings of the School Board. We will find there how the funds provided to the Reading School District are utilized. There we could give our opinion about the issues that affect our schools. If we unite with other parents then we can hope to get things done…”

A resident in Reading, PA reads a copy of the Reading Education Association community newsletter in a local restaurant.

NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign works with schools to help build school-community, as well as school-family relationships. Communication is a challenge faced by many priority schools, and the REA newsletter is a great example of how to build communication between everyone invested in student success.

The newsletter also runs a regular column by the Reading Education Association president, as well as stories contributed by members of the community who work with the schools. One piece was by a nutrition advisor writing about school lunches, another was by a representative from the Poverty Commission writing about how reducing poverty is essential for improving education. Each newsletter also contains important information on how to receive social services, which many parents in the district rely on, and tips on how to save money on bills.

Canizeras says the newsletter production process is a team effort of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and that it wouldn’t be successful without Jeff Brown, who helped launch the publication, Ruth Slonaker, who designs it, and Clair Hoffmann, who handles the printing. Members of REA help distribute the newsletter throughout the community by delivering it to their neighborhood grocer or bodega.

Aside from a hard-working team, Canizeras says there are few other essential features of a great community newsletter.

“First, it was to be relevant and must address the interests of the people reading it,” he says. “Second, it has to be respectful of the community. Third, it needs to be timely. And fourth, it should be pleasant to the eye.”

But above all, Canizeras says that the newsletter has to be readable – it has to speak the language of the community, which in Reading is English and Spanish.

Check out classroomsuperheroes.com to learn more about Lorenzo Canizares and leave words of encouragement.

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PSC Superhero Keith G. Pemberton

Keith G. Pemberton is a social worker at Oak Hill Elementary School in High Point, N.C., where he has built a strong and steady pipeline for parental involvement, specifically among fathers and male mentors. Check out his Classroom Superhero profile and leave some words of encouragement.

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