New RoxEl parent group builds community
“We started with the strong foundation that is already the Roxboro Elementary community, and we’re building it upwards and outwards,” said parent Jennifer Holland of Building Rox, a new subcommittee of the RoxEl PTA.
When Coventry Elementary School shut its doors a decade ago, the building’s students were divided among Boulevard, Fairfax and Roxboro elementary (RoxEl) schools. Those attending RoxEl arrive primarily by bus and live far outside the bounds of this “neighborhood” school. Because many of the school’s parents are not present at drop-off or pick-up time, they may feel less informed about school issues and less connected to the school community.
That’s where Building Rox comes in, as a PTA-supported organization run by committed parents whose mission is to facilitate a safe, inclusive, community-focused environment for all families through outreach and programming.
When Holland served as PTA president from 2012–14, she was acutely aware of the need to engage more families. “I wanted to include everyone: working parents, parents whose kids use Before and After-Care, parents whose kids ride the bus.” She made some changes, such as moving half of the general PTA meetings from morning to evening so working parents could attend. “But the PTA president has too much on her plate,” said Holland. “This needed to be a separate initiative.”
In the spring of 2015, parents Lance Godard and India Meesig began working with Holland and Building Rox was born—with the enthusiastic support of Principal Michael Jenkins and the PTA.
The three started by generating ideas to make school events more accessible, such as moving the end-of-year picnic from lunchtime to evening so that more families could attend. Building Rox has since evolved to include a speaker series, and potluck dinners, which offer opportunities for families to share a meal and build relationships.
“Our goals are small but meaningful,” said Meesig.
Kindergarten parent Jessica Schantz, moved by the team’s efforts, joined Building Rox this year. The group meets monthly with school and PTA leaders, to identify issues and brainstorm solutions.
Last winter, the group launched the Roxboro Un-Shop, a store that provides free clothing and household goods to any student. Flyers with tear-off return slips were sent home, so parents could check off which items they needed and students could “shop” during the day.
“The kids love it! They come in happy, excited and unashamed,” said Meesig.
The Un-Shop, inspired by Noble Elementary School’s Clothing Pantry, has since inspired the Share-fax store at Fairfax Elementary School.
A highlight of this year was [obtaining] a grant from Circle Sampler Camp and St. Paul's Episcopal Church to send fourth-graders Caleb Caldwell and Marquis Major, and fifth-graders Antonio Wimberly and Yasmin Madrigal, to University Circle’s weeklong camp this summer. Their teachers selected them based on their exceptional academic and interpersonal growth.
Building Rox works to share information, so parents feel informed about school and district initiatives, and community resources. The group’s speaker series has featured district administrators, representatives from Open Doors Academy, and State Senator Sandra Williams.
Holland reported that feedback from the series has been overwhelmingly positive and that the group is considering monthly talks next year. After a roundtable with Superintendent Talisa Dixon, Holland said she could feel the dynamic changing: “We’re finally having a real conversation.”
Building Rox knows that engaging all school families requires a long-term commitment. Godard summed up the feelings of many in the group, saying, “Years from now, we can look back and say we’ve made this a true community school.”
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, a graduate of Heights schools and a former Coventry School teacher. She is a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this story appeared at www.chuh.org.