February 2022 – ETAC Community Schools Spotlight: Peekskill Parent Resource Center
An Adult English Language Learner (ELL) class in session at the center.
Embedded in the Community
The Peekskill Parent Resource Center is a true community anchor. From its opening in November 2020, as part of the Lisa Rolleri Family Welcome Center, it is immersed in Peekskill. Its central location and accessibility to parents and their children were born out of District Superintendent Dr. David Mauricio’s vision to put the community school model into practice.
Working with a team spearheaded by Maria Olivier-Flores, Parent, Family and Community Liaison, and Ellen Gerace, Director of Special Services, Dr. Mauricio has focused on actively addressing the specific needs of the Peekskill community’s diverse families.
The Parent Resource Center’s programs include classes and workshops in Financial Comprehension, Introduction to Computers, Literacy, Nutrition, an ESL Program for both adults and children, and Spanish language classes for English speakers. An initial program, ‘Empower U’ was an 8-week series used to introduce families to the variety of resources found in the community. It has since evolved into PRC’s ‘Newcomers’ Program which continues to help families get acclimated into the community and learn how to navigate the educational school system via a 6-week curriculum. As a complement to its English Language courses, the PRC works with social workers and interns to evaluate how both children and their parents are progressing with their language skills.
Every child goes home with a filled bookbag.
The fact that the Peekskill PRC’s doors are open to all of its families and students is also evident in the numerous services it provides. Upon completing a registration process, families receive library cards, and access to a “Kids’ Kloset” which offers everything from diapers, toys, and age-appropriate clothes for infants up to teens. Free My-Fi’s, internet, and masks are also distributed to the families who come in.
During the first two to three months of Dr. Mauricio’s tenure as superintendent, he set up a meeting with the mayor, the youth bureau executive director, and others for the purpose of bringing together all the individuals and organizations who were currently supporting Peekskill’s schools. His vision was to launch the Saturday Academy Initiative. This widely popular, monthly event, held in the Peekskill Middle School occurs the first Saturday of the month. Led by Olivier-Flores, Gerace and Carmen Vargas, Principal of Uriah Hill Elementary School, It has become a bridge in introducing families to the community as well as building more strategic community partnerships.
When the pandemic struck, as with many organizations the PRC’s services were initially curtailed. Meeting the challenge, Dr. Mauricio, Olivier-Flores, Gerace, and Vargas strategized how to continue the Center’s community outreach within CDC safety guidelines. Along with giving out free COVID testing, the PRC is doing targeted COVID outreach going to the largest housing authority complexes, and handing out free masks along with information about the virus and testing. In mid-January, PRC staff was joined by school administrators, the school resource police officer, and a security guard to hand out tests and greet children as they were getting off the buses coming home from school.
Under COVID, the Saturday Academy has been revamped. Rather than offering 30-minute workshops as before, in order to keep everyone safe, the event is now a ‘walk-through’ experience. In its current iteration, parents and their children are welcomed into the Center and visit tables providing information from a growing list of partners sharing information about free services, events, and activities. Food is provided and children are excited to see their friends from school. Parents and teachers are able to connect and bond informally outside of the school environment. Starting with a total of 25 community partners; the success of the Saturday Academy has helped grow those collaborating with the Peekskill Parent Resource Center to over 70. Olivier-Flores and Gerace are the Center’s point people connecting with community partners.
Parent, Family and Community Liaison Maria Olivier-Flores stands in the PRC Lobby.
The first Saturday of February celebrated Black History Month showcasing a museum in which students and different community groups developed tables of information for sharing with families. Parents and children were able to enjoy live jazz music, spoken word performances, and hear from authors and local leaders. On their way out, families were given either breakfast baggies or lunchables. Dr. Mauricio states, “We cherish our diversity. I believe that it is truly one of our strengths in Peekskill. We have a unifying approach that intentionally focuses on making sure people from all ethnic and economic backgrounds are able to come together. Our Saturday Academies manifest that vision.”
Another phenomenal service offering is the Peekskill Parent Resource Center’s Raising A Reader Program. Due to an ongoing partnership with the Guidance Center, through Raising A Reader the Peekskill PRC introduces parents to how to connect with and support their children via reading and developing literacy skills. Reading activities whether at home, going to the grocery store, or to a doctor’s appointment are promoted as opportunities to connect words with sounds – connecting books and themes together. Starting with only two parents, Raising A Reader has grown exponentially. All children are sent home with a book bag full of books.
Olivier-Flores states, “Within the Community School mindset, the Peekskill Parents Resource Center is that one-stop-shopping structure for the district so that families feel comfortable coming here. Outreach is about being embedded into the community.”