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by Elizabeth Nicoletti
In January of 2015, a last-minute parent fundraising campaign spearheaded by a resourceful singe-mother raised $2,000 in just 3 weeks from Garrison Elementary families. Donations brought in Capital Movement, a DC-based, women-owned dance studio that understood our financial limitations. Students had two hip-hop classes a week, and in June, parents attended their yearend recital.
For many watching, it was heartwarming and hilarious as rambunctious preschoolers tried hard to follow the dance steps. For me as a parent, the recital provided a sense of peace. Peace in the fact I worked and, while I did, that my son was learning and being exposed to experiences that I alone could never provide.
As a working mom, I know I am not alone. Caring for children after the 3:15 pm school day is a source of psychological and financial stress for many. With 48 percent of the school population living in shelters or classified as “at risk” by DCPS, there are parents dealing with a far more worrying reality than I know. Parents who work or study often grapple with the costs and benefits of their life decisions on their children’s well-being.
Garrison has a chance to solve this. The video above may not show it, but getting to this well-choreographed routine was no easy path.
After losing a grant for aftercare funding in October of 2015 with little notice, Garrison students were left with low coverage ratios and zero programming. The principal and the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) worked to patch a program together to finish the year. For the 2016-2017 school year, the PTO led an effort with the school administration to find a private aftercare provider that ensured better ratios, safety and enrichment. We look forward to welcoming Apollo After School in August.
To ensure equitable access to high-quality aftercare, we have launched a community crowdfunding campaign. Our PTO website will recognize local businesses and community members that participate as champions for education.
Funding will go to programming like dance classes and to scholarships for working, low-income families. Families qualifying for Medicaid will be able to access the program without paying the monthly fee, however many families are caught in the middle. They earn too much to qualify for a DCPS subsidy but not enough to pay programs costs.
An enriching aftercare program will further transform Garrison. Aftercare is part of the virtuous cycle that keeps school enrollment rates up, enhances school day programming and can even lead to higher test scores — Garrison’s core challenges.
Additional money raised will provide enrichment for older grades, such as field trips to Philadelphia for 4th graders or tablets to help kids with autism learn in our special education classes. Garrison has one of the highest percentage of special needs students in DCPS.
If you pass by Garrison elementary on S Street, you will notice bulldozers, cement piled high and men in hard hats sweating in the summer heat. The ground is literally breaking at Garrison. And for good reason. After a lengthy political process, our modernization dollars arrived and are hard at work.
But the challenge of improving this school does not end with a modern facility. We are reaching out to the community to break new ground. It seems only fair to strengthen the elementary school at the epicenter of so much social and economic change. The ripple effects of doing so will benefit far more than just the students. The more schools thrive, the more the communities that support them thrive too.
I invite you to be a part of this virtuous cycle. Please join us in our campaign to bring equitable, high-quality education to your neighborhood.
Nicoletti is a Garrison Elementary School parent.
Photo via Facebook/GarrisonES