It’s 6 o’clock on a weekday morning and Beatriz Hill’s phone is ringing — and she doesn’t mind at all. She knows the caller is a parent letting her know a student is sick or won’t be attending school that day. “I always answer my phone!” says Hill.
As Community Outreach Coordinator at Escuela Avancemos Academy, Hill communicates absences to the seven bus aides who ride the school buses that provide door-to-door transportation to students. That way, the driver doesn’t wait outside the house. “We make sure we have good communication with the bus aides, the parents and the kids,” says Hill. “It’s our top priority to keep our kids safe.”
Escuela Avancemos Academy (EA Academy) is a K-8 charter school located in Southwest Detroit. With a full-service community model, EA Academy empowers families with targeted services designed to support and engage. Every member of the school’s team is dedicated to helping close the achievement gap for students — important as almost every student is an English language learner.
“We make sure families know that when their child attends our school, they’re learning more than reading and writing and math. They’re learning English and they’re learning how to be successful in their community,” Hill says.
That’s why she and her colleagues at EA Academy communicate with families when it’s convenient for parents. “Parents are always busy, always working, but we can meet with them on Saturdays. I’m OK with that,” she says. She wants parents to know that if they come into the main office at EA Academy, there will always be a staff member who can communicate in their own language if needed.
“I like when they come into the office to ask for help. I always offer help because we know how important it is to work with parents and empower them,” she says, adding that many of the teachers at EA Academy also speak Spanish and work to best communicate with families so they feel comfortable and build trust in their child’s school environment.
Language learning and more
Every day, students at EA Academy learn in Spanish and English, and teachers send homework in both languages so parents can understand what their child is learning. “We always make it understandable and make sure they’re part of their child’s education,” Hill explains.
Because families in the educational community come from Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and other Spanish-speaking countries, teachers and staff at EA Academy value and respect the cultural diversity of the families they serve. When a newcomer joined the school speaking only Mam, a language spoken only in parts of Guatemala and Mexico, everyone provided support as the student learned both Spanish and English at the school.
“One thing about our kids: they learn fast. Our students have so much potential and are so smart,” says Hill.
The school’s door-to-door transportation is helpful to families, says Hill. “A lot of parents are working so we have seven buses that bring kids to school every day,” she explains. Buses pick up students at their front door and deliver them to the school, with the help of a bus aide on each bus.
“This is the only school that has an aide on each bus. We provide this along with transportation to make sure the kids are safe. Many of the aides also work in the lunchroom and when they drop off the children, they can tell the parents exactly what their child ate for lunch,” Hill says. “They love this level of connection.”
In addition to door-to-door transportation, students have access to after-school programming to provide social experiences and enrichment. Through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program, students can participate in academic enrichment, sports and cultural opportunities, too.
“First, students get help with homework, and then they can play and run around,” says Hill. Through additional partnership programs, community members from Southwest Detroit come to the school to read to the children and share their own experiences. “The kids really like this. It motivates them to do better in school,” she says.
Empowering the whole family
Parents have many opportunities to participate in their child’s education at EA Academy. “They can organize holiday parties for Halloween or Christmas and special occasions like Teacher’s Day,” says Hill.
An emerging family literacy program provides language resources in places where they provide English classes if parents want to learn to speak English, too. “Parents really want to learn and they are welcome to come to the school and sit down with their students and they can see how their kids learn,” she says.
What Hill says she loves most about EA Academy is how positive and encouraging the whole school is for every student in the school community.
“If a student says they want to be a bus driver or a business owner or a politician, we say yes! You can do that!” says Hill.
And, when students graduate from EA Academy and go on to high school, whether that is Cass Tech, Academy of the Americas, César Chávez Academy, Detroit Cristo Rey — or any other high school of their choice — Hill wants them to carry that positivity forward.
“I’m so happy working here,” she says. “I love the kids. They are amazing and I want to empower them to do whatever they want in life. Whatever makes them happy.”
Escuela Avancemos Academy is a charter public school authorized by The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University. Learn more about Escuela Avancemos Academy.