August 26, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart
HITTING THE STREETS: Bain Principal Tom Barbieri and his staff take a moment to pose for the camera before continuing on to the next house.
With summer winding down and September fast approaching, many teachers have begun setting up their classrooms. Others are enjoying the remaining carefree hours with their families.
But for many faculty members at Hugh B. Bain Middle School, it’s time to hit the streets and introduce themselves to the school’s new families.
For the second year in a row, Principal Tom Barbieri has asked for volunteers from his faculty and staff to accompany him on his walks through the neighborhoods of Stadium, Gladstone, Peters and Woodridge Elementary Schools.
For the second year in a row, the response has been overwhelming.
This year, Barbieri, along with 20 staffers and Family Center representative Grace Swinski, walked through the streets of Cranston for three nights in a row, three hours each night. They endured temperatures reaching almost 90 degrees.
“It’s what’s best for the kids,” Barbieri said. “A good principal reconnects with parents and students before school starts. It eases the transition so that there are no surprises.”
Barbieri knew he’d be embarking on the initiative, but was blown away that so many teachers offered to help.
“One teacher left her beach house in Charlestown to come up for one day to participate in these walks at night,” he said.
Doors opened to welcome Barbieri as he rang the bell at house after house. The new seventh graders were ready and waiting, having been given a head’s up by student council members.
“This gives them the chance to see that we care about them even outside of school,” said Bain +2 coordinator Brittany Sandbergen. “They see that we’re not just a part of the school.”
The exercise also allows teachers to get a first hand look at where their students are coming from.
“This gives us an appreciation of the walking distance these kids travel and the obstacles they might face on the way to school, before they’ve even gotten to me,” said reading teacher Kristie Butler.
“When you’ve walked these neighborhoods and then these kids are in front of you when you’re teaching them, you can advocate for them because you know, you have a good sense of what they’re going through,” he said.
At each house, Barbieri tried to connect with the students, asking them if they were ready for school, if they had completed their reading and math packets and read their two summer reading books.
Each family also received an invitation to Bain’s back-to-school hot dog roast which was scheduled to take place on Aug. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m. Barbieri asks the faculty and staff to support that event as well, even though it too, is an unpaid event.
He knows from past experience that many staff members will be there, using the opportunity to connect with families and students.
“These walks will help us make connections even before next Wednesday’s hot dog roast,” said Butler.
The staff acknowledges that middle school is a different world than elementary school, which is all the more reason to make these connections prior to the start of the school year.
“When you send your child to middle school, you’re very apprehensive,” said Mary Hopkins, one of Bain’s seventh grade math teachers. “This shows families that we’re going to take care of their students, and that we really do care about them.”
Swinski has a dual role in the process. She has been a parent at Bain, and she walks to represent the Family Center.
“At the Family Center, parent involvement is our number one priority. This is so important to the families and to the children. They look forward to it, and during the school year, they remember these visits. It’s a nice opportunity to connect,” she said.
Last year, the staff members reached out to 90 families in the Bain community. This year, thanks to Swinski’s mapping skills, they surpassed that number on the second night out.
“Although we can’t get to every house, as much as we’d like to, we’re hoping to reach at least two-thirds of the families this year,” she said.
Principal Barbieri believes that pre-season initiatives such as the neighborhood walks and the upcoming hot dog roast are all part of building the school community and forming a school-to-home connection, even if it means volunteering one’s time.
“A major part of our school’s success is having a faculty and staff who are willing to go above and beyond,” Barbieri said. “To me that’s the definition of a professional.”