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Carlin Springs Elementary


Carlin Springs: Creating Success through Collaboration and Support

Twice in the last several months, schools have received attention because of their strong academic performance. But in telling their stories, the Education Trust (in the case of Menlo Park Elementary a "dispelling the myth school" in Portland, OR) and the Washington Post (in the case of Carlin Springs Elementary in Arlington, VA) focused only on academic improvements, overlooking the role of educators and their community partners in ensuring that low-income children also have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. Last month we at the Coalition for Community Schools expanded on the success of Menlo Park Elementary; this month, we dive deeper into Carlin Springs.  

On January 10, 2015, the Washington Post highlighted how Carlin Springs Elementary in Arlington, VA was raising test scores. It focused on how "teaching to the test" and test prep, created double digit test score gains for the school. Once again, while they zoomed in on one area of achievement, the Post did not capture other dimensions of the schools improvement strategy, though the full story had been told to reporters by principal Corina Coronel and her staff.

Here’s the bigger picture.

As the only community school in Arlington, Carlin Springs is uniquely suited to tackle the vast needs of its students; and, with close to 600 students, 90% of whom come from immigrant families, representing 35 countries, and an extremely high transient rate, there are a breadth that emerge. As longtime principal Coronel noted, "Every day we have a new challenge. There isn’t one thing we need to tackle, every day another issue comes in, and we know we need to address it and make sure students are here and able to learn." Community school coordinator Carol Sabatino, who serves as the bridge between the community and school added, "Sometimes this means the student doesn’t have clean clothes and other times this means providing health services. We know it won’t be the same problem, but we know all of the resources and partners we have to handle any challenge."

"Because how you feel matters"

Right as you walk into Carlin Springs you feel comfortable. The brightness of the school, the colorful walls, and the

The rest of the school offered the same comfy feel. Coronel explained that the artwork on the walls was created by students. Second graders had class on ancient Egypt, and instead of just learning about it in the classroom, they worked with a community artist, studied the topic, pulled out important themes and people, and used what they learned to the tell the story to the rest of the school through the mural. The history of Virginia in art lines the hallways as well.   welcoming front office staff make you feel safe and welcome. Right after we entered the school secretary took a call. Opening in English, she soon switched to Spanish to communicate with the parent. The hustle of the office was not unlike many schools, but the smiles, welcoming ‘hellos,’ and free flowing dialogues were particularly warm.

"We want parents and students to have a positive experience and their needs met," Coronel explained. When a parent comes to the school for the first time we introduce them to the family liaison so she can help the family find the help they need. Families fill out the usual paperwork, but we also want them to know we are here to help them if they need it. We know if they feel comfortable they will come to school and that’s the first step to learning." Sabatino noted, "If a student needs supplies, we give them to them and take them to class immediately to get them situated. We want both the parent and the student to feel at home, because how you feel matters."

"Partnerships are not taken lightly"

Parents are not the only partners in the building. Over its past nine years as a community school, Carlin Springs has been working intentionally with different community agencies and businesses to help meet the needs of their students and families. They pursue the kind of open communication that translates into real conversation about student needs, and facilitates partners and educators getting outside their silos to make sure that academic, social/emotional and health needs are also being met. Coronel commented, "We have partnerships to empower the students and community. Partnerships are not taken lightly here, so it is important to have everyone on the same page, and rally around the same goal of student success.

Nyambo Anuluoha of the Arlington VA Federal Credit Union is just one partner on site. She and her team work with students and families to set up bank accounts. She explained, "Students are the tellers and perform all of the responsibilities someone who works full time for the union would assume. This partnership not only teaches responsible financial behaviors, it teaches leadership. Two of our participants from last year serve as the President and Vice President on the student council."

She continued, "We have a strong relationship with [Arlington Public Schools], but the relationship is different here. Corina is involved and sets the expectations for our relationship. She is supportive, the staff are supportive, and it’s a win-win for everyone. And this relationship exists because Carlin Springs is a community school and set up to do this."

Students are encouraged to participate in the over 20 enrichment programs on site. From the Educational Theater Company, to Arlington Soccer Association’s partnership with the Real Madrid Soccer Academy, to the many local faith communities and community associations, partnerships are in place to enrich student’s learning. "The best part," Coronel says, "they are empowered to help others and do better in school."

"Every child can be enriched by something"

Greenbrier Learning Center, another important partner, operates after school programs for Carlin Spring students.  Their staff are fully integrated into the school day, despite having satellite locations for afterschool time. Four AmeriCorps members are in the classrooms working with teachers, allowing for a seamless transition into the afterschool work. Teachers share what areas the students need to work on. As Coronel explained, "if students can’t read, they cannot pass a test. We use these types of partnerships to make sure students build self-confidence and get the extra help they need."

Alyssa Detwiler, of Greenbrier confirmed the power of the partnership, "Our strong relationship with Corina, Carol, and the staff means we can have a bigger impact. I text teachers after school asking if this student has homework or not, I know the grades of students and where they need help, and we continue to foster relationships with parents. All of this connects back to Carlin Springs and is part of a community wide team effort."

 "You see a different story when you look at growth"

Despite being a highly transient school, everyone – school and community personnel – is invested in the success of the students. "We know what we are doing is important. We know we need to build strong relationships over time and despite kids not necessarily staying with us for a long time, we know that while they are here we are going to do everything we can for them to succeed in school," Sabatino shared.

The school is proud of the academic gains they are making, but as we wrapped up Coronel emphatically noted, "I wish instead of just looking at benchmarks, people would look at growth. You see a different story when you look at growth. A story of effort and teamwork"

We couldn’t agree more. As journalist Chuck Palahniuk said, "The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up," and if we look at tests scores and only bits of the picture we miss the true success of what community schools can do – create new opportunities and successes for students and families by working together.

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