University City Partners is committed to sharing stories and information from community members and leaders. Here, Charlotte native Kelsey Van Dyke, Director of Family Empowerment at SchermCo, shares about her work to engage families in University City.
What’s your mission at SchermCo?
We are a social impact implementation firm. Research has consistently confirmed that family engagement and empowerment is one of the most important and powerful predictors of a child’s development, educational attainment, and success, in school and then in life afterwards. We are committed to engaging families in meaningful ways and to get families to actively support their child’s learning and development at home. In broad terms, we work to create and support creative solutions that are good for kids, families, and communities.
How exactly do you do that?
There are two sides to our business. One is family empowerment work, where we work with Title I schools around Charlotte and beyond. The other is teaming up with nonprofits and educational organizations.
I joined SchermCo in October 2019, and the family empowerment work had been up and running for about a year and a half in a pilot stage. It was a partnership between two schools. Since then, we have grown to 12 schools, with Julius L. Chambers High School in University City being part of that group.
Why is this work important now?
Title I schools are those that are in the more under-resourced areas of a community. Those are the schools that have lower family engagement, for many reasons, but for one, sometimes the parents are working two, maybe three, jobs. Covid made things even harder. They don’t have the same kind of luxury of time to engage with schools.
When we start, we do a survey to give us a better understanding of when these families can engage. Everyone is not working a 9-to-5 schedule, Monday through Friday. All families want to be a part of their students’ education; we have to create connection points where families can actually do that, and also not make it intimidating.
What have you been working on at Chambers High?
Every community is unique. At Chambers, we learned that sports are super big with the community. They’ve won state championships. So, we have observed that families and students will come out to support those games and support their school in that way, but then maybe, on the next night, after a big football or basketball game, there’s super important content being delivered at the school, but maybe only 10 families were there. Some of our success is understanding what’s important to a community and using it to our advantage to deliver valuable information.
For Chambers, we learned that mental and physical health are super important to families. We put together a three-part series called Mind, Body, Soul Saturdays, hosted in the school gym, and it was two hours, dedicated to mental and physical health. We had trainers come to do workouts, plus yoga and mindfulness teachers and a nutritionist. Then, we brought the community together and created that connection point to those community partners.
How can the University City community help your mission at Chambers?
A huge need for schools across the United States, but also in Charlotte, and very much at Chambers is staffing. Not just teachers, we need more adults to greet and monitor hallways or spaces at the school to help foster a safe learning environment.
At Chambers, we call them Cougar Community Captains and it’s on a volunteer basis. We are hoping to get a group on weekday mornings, early, and then during lunch time, too. It’s low commitment and you can do it once or commit every week. The one stipulation is that you have to be a registered CMS volunteer, which requires you to fill out a form and have your background checked. Sign up to become a Cougar Community Captain here.
Have a community initiative you’d like to share with us? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.