*Read below about McCall Raftus’ rewarding internship experience with FirstLine Schools!*
John Dibert Community School is a transformation school located in Mid City that offers pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade. FirstLine Schools recently took over the operations of the school to improve student achievement. FirstLine operates in five open-enrollment public charter schools in New Orleans. These are schools that receive money from the government but are not subject to some of the rules and regulations that other public schools must follow—in exchange for promising certain results from their students. Despite their autonomy, they are indeed public—yet while families do not have to pay for their children to attend these schools, they do have to apply in order to guarantee them a spot. FirstLine operates in four primary schools (through eighth grade)—Arthur Ashe Charter School, John Dibert Community School, Samuel J. Green Charter School, and Langston Hughes Academy as well as one high school, Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School. The mission of FirstLine is to “create and inspire great open enrollment in public schools in New Orleans” by providing students with the “academic foundation necessary for success in high school, college, and beyond.” FirstLine ensures free school bus transportation to all of its schools, as well as unique and innovative programs such as Edible Schoolyard New Orleans—an organization with projects all over the country geared toward building and sharing a national food curriculum by providing students with “a free nutritious lunch and interactive experiences in the classroom, kitchen, and garden.”
Dibert’s focus is on ultimately preparing their students for success in college, which is achieved by ensuring that every student is performing academically on or above their grade level in encouraging yet rigorous classroom environments. As a means of reinforcing their objectives, each classroom is named after a college, which is often (but not always) the alma mater of the head teacher in that particular class. This is a constant reminder of what students should be aiming for—not only to graduate from high school, but to get into and eventually graduate from college as well. Dibert’s school culture is defined by the FIRST values: Focus, Integrity, Respect, Self-determination, and Teamwork. The staff at Dibert upholds the idea that developing these values will help students succeed in any setting.
Each grade has one, two, or sometimes three classrooms depending on the number of students enrolled in that year. In order to address the diversity of economic situations among the student body, Dibert has a strictly enforced uniform policy. Each student is provided with a basic uniform and must wear it every day. This eliminates any problems that would otherwise arise in regards to discrepancies in socioeconomic statuses—as long as all the students are dressed the same, none of them know the difference and thus they are all treated equally by each other as well as the staff.
Although Dibert is operated through FirstLine, it is technically a RSD (Recovery School District) school, which means that it is now using the brand new RSD OneApp application put into place by the district in order to simplify the application process for families. This application allows all of the children in a given family to apply at one time with a simple supplemental form instead of a completely separate packet, as they used to have to fill out. It also allows families to apply at multiple RSD schools at once, ranking their preferences, which not only gives the students a greater chance of ensuring a spot at their ideal school, but also takes a lot of the stress and pressure off parents, many of whom work at least one full time job.
In the past, schools such as Dibert have struggled with a very high turnover rate, due to a number of factors such as unstable households, the complex application process, and previously low rates of academic success. The combination of FirstLine taking over operations as well as the new, simplified application system have given the staff at Dibert renewed hope about resolving some of these issues.
JDCS has recently seen a fairly large increase in their Spanish-speaking population. Within these families most of the students are bilingual, however many of the parents only speak limited English. This has created a need for translation services in order to ensure clear communication with these parents. That is precisely where my internship position as Spanish Language Parent Liaison comes into play. My responsibilities include translating into Spanish anything necessary, ranging from school-wide handouts, report cards, and other informative flyers. Some of the projects I’ve had so far include translating an after school care tax form, the school schedule for Mardi Gras break, instructions for completing the RSD OneApp, a flyer regarding classes offered for parents, and my most recent assignment—a large and ongoing task—is translating the Dibert Handbook. In addition to translating documents, I have also made phone calls to parents regarding issues such as the policy for missing school in the case of a death in the family, an invitation to a family dinner night event, and setting up parent-teacher conferences. In order to provide a way for these parents to address any concerns they may have about their students, there is a FirstLine Spanish email address they can reach me at, as well as a phone line set up for the same purpose.
I have loved every part of my internship so far. Not only has it provided me with a practical way to use (and improve) my language skills, but it has also allowed me to give back to the community. In addition, it has given me insight into a number of potential career paths and opportunities, as well as a chance to see some of the challenges that are faced in today’s public education system.
**All photos taken from the FirstLine Schools – John Dibert website: http://www.dibertcommunityschool.org/index.php?page=dibert.html