Tarachell Thomas, Principal, Pine Jog Elementary School (Palm Beach County, Florida)

Throughout the upcoming months, we will be running a Q&A blog series that features GSNN partners describing best practices and lessons learned on topics tied to each of the impact systems in the GreenPrint. Q&As for January and February focus on the Leadership system.

This is the second blog in the series.

Describe the importance of school-family-community partnerships to the Pine Jog community. How do these partnerships impact learning for your students?
Our school partnerships are so significant that I truly believe Pine Jog Elementary School wouldn’t exist without them. Our families and the community-at-large play a big role in keeping our programs running and school grounds maintained. The onset of COVID-19 was a wakeup call of sorts that helped me realize the mutual impact of these partnerships. Many families reached out to us for support throughout the pandemic and local community groups rose to the challenge. Heroes for Education was one of several groups to provide thousands of dollars in Publix gift cards to our families so they could purchase school supplies. Palm Beach County Food Bank donates 63 boxes of food each week to support our Weekend Food For Kids Program. Back to Basics donates over 200 pieces of clothing each year to ensure students can meet our uniform requirement.

Other community partnerships help our teachers enrich learning beyond the classrooms. Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Pine Jog Environmental Center introduces students to the plants and animals that make up our local ecosystems, fostering a lifelong passion for conservation. The center facilitates learning experiences on our school site, in their classrooms, and on the miles of trails on their property, and provides a safe place for students to learn and grow after school through their aftercare program. The South Florida Solid Waste Authority hosts face-to-face and virtual field trips for our students so they can learn about recycling and conservation. Students take what they learn from these experiences and share their newfound knowledge with their families and use it to improve the school campus and community.

Discuss some of the ways in which Pine Jog engages families as valued members of the school community.
We provide multiple opportunities for our families to participate in the Pine Jog community. Families are invited to Literacy Nights and Night of the Arts programs to celebrate student learning. They volunteer their time to participate in cleanup and stewardship days and walking and biking to school events. They serve on our School Advisory Council and are invited to attend monthly meetings. They organize and donate to angel tree gifting programs and food for families programs.

Discuss some of the ways in which Pine Jog engages community members as valued members of the school community.
Community members serve on Pine Jog’s School Advisory Council, volunteer time as mentors to students and guest speakers in classrooms, and provide STEM and lesson planning training for our faculty and staff. They also create unique opportunities for our students. For example, the South Florida Solid Waste Authority and State Representative Matt Willhite showcase student work in their publications and on the walls of their office buildings. As mentioned above, the South Florida Solid Waste Authority offers virtual field trips for students, allowing them to visit places they would not be able access otherwise.

What are some best practices you use to nurture relationships with families and community leaders?
We use our social media channels to keep parents informed of news, volunteer opportunities, and upcoming events. And we invite community leaders to participate in schoolwide events to encourage ongoing engagement with our school and students. For example, the team from the Greenacres Fire Department served as guest readers during this year’s Literacy Week, reading to our students either face to face or virtually to promote joy and excitement for reading.

How do you communicate successes and progress on health, equity, and sustainability goals to your families and the community?
Currently, social media is our greatest asset in communicating success with families and the community. Our Pine Jog Art Room Twitter Page is one example of how we’ve been keeping families up-to-speed regarding students’ creative pursuits.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a school or district that is looking to expand their family/community engagement?
Start by connecting with people within your direct area of influence and branch out from there. The Pine Jog PTA acts as our boots on the ground. The PTA members have tremendous knowledge of groups and organizations who can support our efforts as a school.