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WCASD Hires A Community Engagement Specialist

Sandra Bradley, WCASD Community Engagement Specialist  First Annual Community Resource Fair

When it comes to education, there are many components that lead to success, with parental engagement being one of the key components. Many tools are available to help parents support their children, but it's not always easy to know where to turn first or get answers. For families who speak a different language navigating the public school system can be even more challenging. The West Chester Area School District (WCASD) has taken steps to make it less challenging. 

At the monthly board meeting on September 27, the WCASD School Board of Directors approved the hiring of a newly created Community Engagement Specialist.

The growing number of students identified as English Learners caused us to create the Community Engagement Specialist position," stated Leigh Ann Ranieri, Director of Pupil Services for the WCASD. "Sandra Bradley is the ideal candidate for the Community Engagement Specialist position because she has strong connections to the community, is a native Spanish speaker, and possesses a great desire to serve the families in the West Chester community."

Sandra Bradley's primary responsibility is to engage non-English speaking parents in their child's education by providing information about the schools and the WCASD.

"There is a cultural gap in the understanding of expectations the district has for the parents and the roles the parents play in their child's education," said Bradley.

Making connections with people comes easily for Bradley. She developed her love of learning about different cultures while living in New York City after her family moved to the United States from Uruguay. "It was very exciting to meet so many people from all over the world."

Bradley and her husband settled in West Chester 21 years ago and started their family. As she spoke with other parents at the bus stop, Bradley realized how hard it was for families where English is the second Language (EL) to receive information and understand the meaning of the educational terms.

Bradley reached out to Christine Miller, a teacher at Fern Hill Elementary School, for help. Miller connected her with a parent from Glen Acres, and they joined forces to organize a meeting of EL families. Led by school counselor Kate Coulter, Bradley helped to interpret a discussion on bullying.

The conversation and parent engagement that day led Bradley, with the help of a team of volunteers, to create Padres Latinos del distrito escolar del área de West Chester (Latino Parents of the West Chester Area School District.) 

"Through the pandemic, we recognized that a portion of our community wasn't able to access their child's education as readily as other parents," said Ranieri. "One way to improve this was to hold Padres Latinos meetings via zoom, and we quickly learned that we could reach parents who want to participate but weren't able to attend sessions in person. The numbers rose to well over 100 in some meetings."

In her new role, Bradley wants to build upon her work with Padres Latinos and tap into other groups in the West Chester community, noting it is essential to meet the parents where they are. 

The recently held First Annual Padres Latinos Resource Fair was designed to do just that. Families met with representatives from government agencies, local foundations, colleges, businesses, and the school district. Bradley has already started making connections and collecting resources for next year.

"I want parents to feel empowered and secure enough to share and contribute during our meetings, community presentations, and most importantly where their children attend school."

Bradley shares district-wide news with families on the Padres Latinos Facebook page and through WhatsApp, an instant messaging app that provides a safe forum for parents to share information and experiences. 

With almost 5% of the 12,000 students in the WCASD enrolled in the English Language Development Program (ELD), Bradley's newly created position is critical to helping parents support their children's education. The goal of the district's ELD Program is to develop English language proficiency so that students can function independently in the mainstream classroom setting.

Funds for the Community Engagement Specialist come from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) for the next two years. At the end of the two years, the district will evaluate the need for the position and potentially shift funding through the general district budget.