VISTA Spotlight – Reflections from Sasha Best, Community Partnership Coordinator at Alexander Adaire School
If I had asked my 25-year-old self if I would become a Community Partnerships Coordinator in an AmeriCorps VISTA program, I doubt I would have even understood the question. I would have wondered, what is a VISTA or a Community Partnerships Coordinator? Today I could talk for hours about this work. I was originally drawn to partnership development through my work as a volunteer during a career transition about five years ago. I was doing a lot of volunteering and found myself interested in opportunities in my neighborhood school. I became deeply passionate about public education. I enrolled my two school aged kids in public school. I was all in. I began to understand how much elementary school had changed since I was in school, and what a significant impact a small group of committed partners can have on a school both academically and culturally. I learned that one of the most important aspects of successful school partnerships is to have the right facilitator or coordinator at the school site. Then I learned about the PHENND VISTA program and worked with the Principal of the school where my children attended to apply for the program. The school eventually became a PHENND site and I decided to use the VISTA program as a means to my end game – working as a Community Partnerships Coordinator. I became an AmeriCorps VISTA and was assigned to my school.
The first year of my work was really focused on developing my institutional knowledge about how my school site works and how the larger district system works. I began to prioritize school needs and identify how and if current partnerships were supporting these needs. I gathered data and listened a lot. I sat in on any meeting I was invited to. I wanted to know what administrators, teachers and parents were thinking. I then cast a wide net to build or enhance programming, increase parent engagement and improve attendance. Throughout the year I built processes and systems including tracking forms, communication protocols, scripts and more, so that we could effectively meet our school’s goals.
During the first year I also developed a clear understanding of my duties, which largely included partnership development, but also included communicating with parents and community members, and Kindergarten transition support for new families. All of this carried over into my second year. I also now really appreciate how dynamic and fluid a school environment can be, so a flexible attitude has definitely been part of my success.
Now in my second year as a VISTA I have worked to narrow my focus. I am trying to discover new strategies for current partners to go deeper or intersect with other partners at the school. Currently, the school’s highest priority, based on teacher needs assessment data, is academics, therefore, my mantra this year is a question, “How will this support or drive academics?” Every current partner program and all new partnership opportunities are measured based on this question. The answer may be a direct or indirect positive impact, but it must have a positive impact. All programs have to be moving the needle on our student’s academic experiences.
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